The future of freelancing



The number of working mums who freelance has increased by 25 per cent since 2008, according to a report from the freelance group PCG.

The report, Exploring the UK Freelance Workforce, says there are now 210,000 freelance working mums, making up 13 per cent of all freelancers. The rate of increase since 2008 is double the rate of increase in the freelance workforce as a whole. The report states: “This continues the trend towards increased self-employment among women evident for the past two decades; rising unemployment rates since 2008 among men might also have acted as a stimulus to increased female freelancing to maintain household incomes, or to mitigate the decline.

The report, authored by John Kitching and David Smallbone of Kingston University’s Small Business Research Centre, shows that UK businesses are hiring more independent professionals to complete specialist project work, with a third using freelancers on a weekly basis and 41% planning to engage them in the coming year.

It says there are an estimated 1.56 million freelance workers in the UK, comprising 1.35 million working freelance in main jobs and a further 207,000 working freelance in second jobs. It estimates 13 per cent of all freelancers work freelance in a second job. Freelance workers constitute 5-6 per cent of everyone in employment.

Since 2008, freelancer numbers have increased from 1.39 million to 1.56 million, a rise of 12 per cent, says the report, reflecting changing labour market conditions due primarily to the economic and financial crisis. It says: “During the period, unemployment has increased 49 per cent while employment has decreased, strongly suggesting that individuals losing, or failing to obtain employment have turned their attention to freelance working.

Defining freelancers as genuine business owners without employees working in a range of creative, managerial, professional, scientific and technical occupations, the report says the largest freelance groups are artistic, literary and media occupations (265,000 freelancers), managers and proprietors in other services (161,000), and teaching and education professionals (110,000). These three groups constitute approximately one third of all UK freelance workers, it calculates.

Since 2008, some occupational groups have expanded substantially the number of freelancers they contain while others have decreased. For instance, increases of more than 50 per cent are reported in artistic, literary and media occupations and in sales, marketing and related associate professionals during the 2008-11 period. Large declines were observed among therapy professionals and design occupations.

Women freelancers.

In terms of gender balance, more than six in ten freelancers are male, a higher proportion than among employees in comparable occupations, say the report’s authors. They add: “This suggests men have superior access to the resources required to enter, and sustain, both freelance and senior employment positions – finance, knowledge and skills, and social networks – and/or stronger preferences for freelance working.

Women tend to be more highly represented in associate professional and technical occupations, where 46 per cent are women; in managerial and professional occupations, the figures are 33 and 34 per cent respectively. The report says: “This is consistent with research concerning the sex-typing of specific occupations and the barriers women experience in accessing jobs in management and the higher professions.

One fifth of freelance workers are 60 years of age or older, a slightly higher proportion than in 2008. Despite a high churn level, one in seven freelance workers report first becoming self-employed before 1990 and more than 40 per cent report becoming self employed before 2005. The authors say this reflects high levels of stability among a proportion of the self-employed population suggesting strong preferences for self-employment and a certain degree of longevity among the self-employed.

The authors try to estimate the economic contribution freelance workers make to the UK economy. They say businesses without employees (excluding financial intermediation) contributed an estimated £202 billion in sales during 2010, or approximately 8 per cent of private sector turnover.

If freelance workers contribute to turnover proportionate to their presence in the wider group of businesses without employees, their collective sales would be £88 billion.

John Brazier, Managing Director of PCG, said: “The findings from the Kingston Report prove that freelancing is now one of the cornerstones of the UK economy. This data is especially important now as it shows that in tough economic conditions, the ability to be flexible is critical – both for businesses and individuals looking for work.

Flexible workers such as contractors and freelancers now account for 6% of the UK’s workforce, making it a significant constituency within the UK workforce deserving of a voice at policy making and governmental levels.

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