Today, more people than ever before are taking advantage of the freedom and flexibility that comes with self-employment. No-one more so than females who are moving into highly skilled, professional freelance occupations at a greater rate than men.
This is according to a new report by IPSE, titled Exploring the rise of self-employment in the modern economy, which found that the overall number of female freelancers has risen by 67 per cent since 2008. This is more than double the rise in the number of male freelancers in the same period (33%).
As a result, in 2017 the UK’s total freelance population was 43 per cent female and 57 per cent male. A significant factor behind the rapid rise in women working for themselves is the growing number of self-employed working mums. Right now, one in seven of all self-employed people are working mums.
The total number of mothers working in highly skilled freelance occupations has almost doubled since 2008, amounting to an increase of 96 per cent (169,000 in 2008 to 331,000 in 2017). Since 2016, the proportion of the total number of highly skilled freelancers who are working mothers has also risen by ten per cent.
Speaking to Modern Work, Corinne Stuart, former self-employed business consultant and now head of commercial development at IPSE, said: “These results show just how useful and important self-employment can be for women who want to work and spend time with their children.
“In the last eight years, more women than ever before have recognised how invaluable the flexibility of self-employment can be, allowing them to both earn an income and spend time with their children. For many, it is also a vital means of moving back into the workforce.
“It is important for the government to recognise how liberating and beneficial self-employment can be, and ensure it remains a viable career path for all. It should make a particular effort to ensure self-employed mothers have all the assistance and support they need, such as by making them, like employees, eligible for statutory maternity pay.”
The discreet dynamo
It’s not just self-employed females who are on the rise: the entire sector is growing much faster than the rest of the labour force.
The surge in self-employment in recent times has been driven by the UK’s most skilled freelancers. This group has grown by 46 per cent since 2008, outstripping overall self-employment growth, which was 34 per cent during the same period.
Working in occupations from managers, directors and senior officials, to sports coaches and science and engineering professionals, they now make up two million of the UK’s 4.4 million solo self-employed (meaning businesses working on their own account, without employees).
The self-employed sector is among the most productive in the UK, contributing approximately £271 billion to the economy in 2017.
But where does a large proportion of this output come from?
It’s not hard to guess: skilled freelancers contributed more than £125 billion of that. Embedded in industries across the country, the self-employed – particularly freelancers – are the UK’s discreet dynamo.
Who makes up the freelance workforce?
The self-employed are working in so many different occupations, providing flexible, specialist skills to businesses across the country.
But where are they most focused?
The report shows that the largest proportions of highly skilled freelancers are working in artistic, literary and media occupations (16%). This is followed by managers and proprietors in other services (12%), functional managers and directors (7%), teaching and education professionals (7%) and IT and telecommunications professionals (5%).
The study also shows that the average age of a freelancer is 47. The highest proportion of freelancers are aged 40-49 (508,000) and 50- 59 (513,000) – half (50%) of all freelancers fall into these age groups.
Younger freelancers, aged 16-29, are the smallest group of all freelancers proportionally. This group, however, has experienced the most significant growth since 2008 – increasing by 41 per cent.
With a significant proportion of highly skilled freelancers approaching or soon to be approaching retirement age, it is encouraging to see the growth of the next generation of young people getting into business for themselves.
John Kitching, a professor at Kingston University, said: “The growth of self-employment has been one of the defining features of the UK economy for more than a decade, and independent professionals look set to extend their contribution to workforce numbers and business turnover.
“At a time when Brexit-driven uncertainty, rising inflation and concerns with tax compliance threaten the financial wellbeing of the UK’s smallest businesses, this report has shown just how important the country’s self-employed population are.