Exploring the UK freelance workforce

Posted Tuesday 5 July 2016

Professor John Kitching of the Small Business Research Centre, at Kingston Business School, has produced a report for the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) exploring the role of freelance workers in the UK economy.

IPSE commissioned the report to follow on from research on the nature and size of the UK freelance marketplace first conducted in 2008. This new report, released at the IPSE conference in April, presents data drawn from official UK government sources to develop a picture of the current UK freelance workforce and looks at trends in freelance working.

The report found that growth in freelancer numbers have continued during both the global financial crisis of 2008-9 and the subsequent economic upturn. Between 2008 and 2015 the number of freelancers in the UK increased by 36 per cent, from 1.4 millions to 1.91 millions. "This shows freelance workers continue to be an important component of the UK labour force, enabling organisations to adapt labour practices flexibly to meet operational requirements," says Professor Kitching.

Amongst the trends the report identifies are that the fastest growing occupational groups for freelancers are arts and media, and sports and fitness. The report discovered another interesting statistic, six in 10 freelancers are male, a higher proportion than among employees in comparable occupations. In addition it identifies the rise of working mums as a freelance demographic; they make up one in seven of all freelancers, an increase of 70 per cent. Older people are also important contributors to the freelance workforce: one in five freelancers was aged 60 or over in 2015.

With their increasing numbers, freelancers are making a greater contribution to the UK economy. The report tentatively estimates this might have been as high as £120–125bn in 2015.

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