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You’re One in a 1.56 Million

A recently published PCG commissioned study, carried out by Kingston University, titled, 'Exploring the UK Freelance Workforce, 2011' (PDF) reveals the important contribution that freelancers make towards the UK economy and also provides an insight into some interesting demographics of the contracting community.

In its Executive Summary, the report begins by defining freelancers as 'genuine business owners without employees' who can be found across a range of managerial, professional, scientific and technical roles, and states the importance of freelance workers and that they are a hidden part of the small business population.

Whilst there is no official definition of 'freelancer', as it is not a legal concept, it is a customary term favoured by workers, end clients and others to describe particular kinds of worker, or work relationship, in certain occupational or industry environments. Typically, freelance workers are independent 'one man bands' supplying services to clients under a temporary contract for services.

How many freelancers are there working in the UK?

According to Labour Force Survey there are an estimated 1.56 million freelancers in the UK, of which 1.35 million derive their main source of income from their business and 207,000 (13%) are freelancing as a second job.

Freelance workers make up 5-6% of all in employment.

Numbers of those freelancing have risen from 1.39 million to 1.56 million since 2008, an increase of 12%. One of the reasons attributed to this is the suggestion that individuals losing, or not being able to secure employment have turned to freelance working.

The study describes freelance working as a 'high-churn' activity with high degrees of turnover.

Occupational and industry profiles

Freelancer workers are present in most occupations but there is an uneven spread of freelancers across the board:

Associate professional & technical Professional Managerial
630,000 (40%) 576,000 (37%) 352,000 (23%)

The largest freelance groups that form approximately one third of all UK freelance workers are:

Artistic, literary & media Managers & proprietors in other services Teaching & educational professionals
265,000 161,000 110,000

Whilst some occupational groups have expanded during the period 2008 – 2011, others have shrunk. Artistic, literary, media, sales, marketing and related associate professional occupations experienced an increase of more than 50%. Conversely, large declines were experienced within therapy professionals and design occupations.

Over 50% of the freelance population work within four industries, namely:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical activities;
  • Education;
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation; and
  • Information and communication.

Taking the workforce of some of those industries as a whole (employees + freelancers), the number of freelance workers that make up their number are as follows:

Arts, entertainment & recreation Professional, scientific & technical activities Information & communication
1/5 1/6  1/7

Gender and age

More than 60% of freelancers are male which the study suggests that men have greater access to the resources required to enter and endure both freelance and senior employment positions, those being finance, knowledge and skills and social networks. Males may also have a stronger preference for freelancing.

Females are well represented in associate professional and technical occupations where 46% are women. In managerial and professional occupations they make up 33% and 34% respectively, demonstrating the obstacles put in the way of females wishing to access jobs in management and higher professions.

One fifth of freelancers are 60 years old or over, which is slightly higher than in 2008.  

How do freelancers view themselves?

The majority of freelance workers describe themselves as 'working for themselves' (two thirds) rather than 'doing freelance work' (less than a quarter use this term). This is likely to be because of:

  1. The high proportion of individuals operating as sole proprietors or as sole directors of limited companies, whose businesses do not employ anybody; and
  2. Traditional industry/occupational labels.

What do freelancers contribute to the economy?

The study suggests that it is possible to speculatively estimate freelance workers' contribution to the UK economy. It is estimated that during 2010 'one man' businesses contributed an estimated £202 billion in sales, representing 8% of private sector turnover.


Freelancers are a vitally important part of the UK labour market and because of the weak UK economy and 'persistent turbulence in commodity markets' it is envisaged that both private and public sector organisations will 'continue to experience incentives to use freelancers in the future.'

Hopefully those incentives will outweigh the disincentives thrown up by Government in the form of political and reactionary tax measures. Long live freelancing!

By Andy Vessey


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1 thought on “You’re One in a 1.56 Million”

  1. Pete

    Government won’t get it and will still try and s*** on us – especially with the likes of Nick Clegg and Vince Cable in the Cabinet

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