Freelance workers are an important, but hidden, part of the small business population. United Kingdom (UK) official statistics do not classify workers explicitly as freelancers, but their numbers can be estimated using Labour Force Survey (LFS) categories.
The purpose of this report is to provide a quantitative ‘snapshot’ of the UK freelance workforce and important constituent sub-groups in early 2015. Building on previous publications (Kitching and Smallbone 2008, 2012), this report presents data drawn from official UK government sources to develop a contemporary picture of the UK freelance workforce. The principle data source used is the LFS, but data from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) Business Population Estimates for the UK and the Regions 2015 are also used. All LFS data refer to quarter two in relevant years, unless otherwise stated.
Since 2008, freelancer numbers have increased from 1.40m to 1.91m, a rise of 36 per cent. This was a period of prolonged economic uncertainty precipitated by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. During this period, unemployment increased by almost 50 per cent before then falling by a third. Similarly, employment decreased sharply before turning upward. Freelance working has continued to rise throughout the period, suggesting that macroeconomic circumstances exert an influence on the demand for, and supply, of freelance workers.
Freelance workers are present in all 43 minor occupation groups covered by the LFS. The largest freelance groups are artistic, literary and media occupations with 328,000 freelancers (17 per cent), managers and proprietors in other services with 222,000 freelancers (12 per cent), and teaching and education professionals with 139,00 freelancers (7 per cent). These three occupational groups continue to be the most important numerically; they now constitute more than a third of all freelance workers.
The number of mothers workings as freelancers is 287,000, 15 per cent of all freelancers. This number has increased 70 per cent since 2008, approximately double the rate of increase in the freelance workforce as a whole.
In 2015 freelancers contributed £109bn to the UK economy.
This is in fact a conservative estimate and freelancers might be expected to generate even greater revenue.