HR · 28 February 2017

Surge in freelancers adds £119bn to UK economy

Work for free
The freelance workforce is believed to have the same economic value as the entire car sales industry

Britain’s community of busy freelancers increased by 43 per cent since 2008, according to a new study that highlights the growing economic contribution of the freelance workforce.

The research, by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), revealed that the collective economic output of freelancers reached £119bn in 2016 – a £10bn increase since 2015.

Freelance health professionals increased by 191 per cent since 2008, the fastest growing group, while artistic and media roles remained the most popular occupations.

To put the rise of freelance vocations into context, the report stated that the collective economic value of UK freelancers was comparable to the entire motor sales sector.

Commenting on the increased economic contribution of freelancers, IPSE CEO Chris Bryce said that the figures came as no surprise, as “the vast majority of freelancers love what they do”.

“At a vital time when the economy needs to be dynamic in the face of growing uncertainty, freelancers are providing on-demand resources to businesses allowing them to be flexible in response to change,” he said in a statement.

Millennials were the demographic driving what is the fastest growing segment of UK self-employment. The number of 16 to 29 year-old freelancers increased by two-thirds since 2008.

The study also uncovered the popularity of freelancing among older demographics. A fifth of all UK freelancers were found to be over the age of 60.

Bryce added that it was “exciting” to see freelancing become more popular among younger generations, and that government should support it as a viable employment model.

It’s important their choice is recognised and policy makers support this trend rather than maintaining an older, less flexible employment model. We’re not living in the 20th century anymore,” he concluded.

Speaking to IPSE, Ben Matthews, director of London-based digital marketing agency Montfort, explained the “freedom, flexibility and financial benefits” to freelancing, but offered a word of advice for those looking to ditch the traditional office job.

“You need an entrepreneurial spirit to really make a success of freelancing, but once you’re used to the lifestyle it brings substantial benefits for those who make the leap.”

Working for free

Despite the benefits to freelancing, a recent study from online project management platform Approve.io found that 70 per cent of Britain’s freelancers were asked to work for free in 2016, with many employers seeking to take advantage of the need to gain work experience in the sector.

Offering advice, Charlotte Whelan, a project manager at Approve.io, told freelancers to become more shrewd when accepting offers.

“There’s a difference between helping out a mate or offering your time for free to a good cause or charity and being exploited by a business that could – and should – be offering to pay for your talent,” she said in a statement.

“You wouldn’t walk into a hairdressers and ask for a free haircut on the promise that you’ll tell all your mates where you got your hair done.”

Are you one of the millions of Brits secretly aspiring to be self-employed?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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