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Freelancers on the march: The rise and rise of self-employment

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It’s no secret that the UK’s army of freelancers, contractors and self-employed professionals is growing as the nature of work changes.

The number of self-employed people increased between March and May 2017 by 14,000 to 4.8 million, representing 15% of all people in work, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

How many freelancers are there in the UK?

Using a different definition, freelancing trade body IPSE reported in February of this year that there are 2 million freelancers in the UK – 1.77 million of whom work freelance on a full-time basis.

IPSE says the remaining 234,000 freelance as a second job, using this work to supplement their main source of income.

2020 vision

Now, online freelance platform PeoplePerHour has underlined the scale of the shift away from traditional employment by predicting that half of the UK workforce will be freelancing by 2020.

PeoplePerHour founder Xenios Thrasyvoulou said: 

We predict by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be self-employed and contributing more than £51 billion to the UK economy. The workforce is shifting and the model of full-time employment is becoming obsolete. It’s almost impossible for businesses to ignore this evolution.

This bold prediction followed extensive research by PeoplePerHour into the differences between employment and self-employment.

Using a combination of its own statistics and YouGov data, the company found that:

  • 87% of the self-employed say they would never be an employee again.
  • A third (35%) of those who are self-employed took two or more holidays outside the UK in the past year, compared to 29% of those who are employed.
  • 44% of self-employed professionals work from home and have no commute. In contrast, nearly one in ten (9%) employed Brits travel up to three hours or more each day – amounting to 720 hours or ONE MONTH every year.
  • Freelancers and the self-employed get over a third more exercise each week than their employed counterparts.

What does the Taylor Review mean for freelancers?

The recently-published Taylor Review was in part a response to the rise of freelancing, self-employment and the gig economy.

It noted the benefits of flexible, independent working and predicted that it would continue to flourish, stating:

The shift towards greater variation in working patterns is likely to continue as the economy moves towards full employment and people look for work that suits their individual lifestyles and preferences.

‘Dear government, please don’t stifle freelancers’

Despite disagreements over the speed and scale of the workplace revolution, it seems almost certain that freelancing will continue to grow in the coming years.

As the Taylor Review itself acknowledged, the challenge is to offer protection to vulnerable individuals by stamping out false self-employment, whilst ensuring genuinely independent freelancers are able to prosper.

Let’s hope policymakers are able to strike the right balance, for the sake of the UK’s flexible workforce and the economy in general.

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