The latest labour market data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the first month-on-month increase in the number of freelancers since March last year.
Figures showed the number of self-employed people in the UK increased slightly from 4,313,000 in January to 4,331,000 in February.
While the figure is still 617,000 lower than the same time last year, experts say the findings are “cause for cautious optimism.”
IPSE, the trade association for the self-employed, said the increase was driven by a rise in the number of female freelancers, whose numbers grew to 1,576,000 from 1,547,000.
The ONS data tallies with IPSE research, which recently found that nearly a quarter of freelance businesses (24%) had returned to pre-pandemic levels, while three in 10 said the opening of the economy would boost their business.
The trade body’s Confidence Index also revealed a 20 per cent rise in the average earnings of highly skilled freelancers and that confidence in the economy overall had risen significantly. This was reported on here.
Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE, said: “This first month-on-month increase in freelancer numbers in over a year is cause for cautious optimism.
“Although the year-on-year drop is testament to the drastic financial damage of the pandemic, the monthly increase – taken with our data on rising business performance – gives us hope that the freelance sector is on its way back.
“Freelancers are the leading edge of the economy and have always played a key part in economic recovery. To fully unleash this potential, however, government must do more to support the sector. Many excluded freelancers are now struggling under enormous amounts of debt, and government should consider ways to relieve this.
“Meanwhile, the IR35 changes have left many contractors trying to navigate the near-unregulated world of umbrella companies: government must step in to support them and underpin the continued recovery of the sector.”