The latest research from IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed) shows that freelancers’ contribution to the economy has continued to soar in the past year, and confirms that the boom in freelancing is continuing.

The Fastest Growing Self-Employment Sector

IPSE’s figures show that freelancers, who make up 42% of the UK’s 4.8 million self-employed and 6% of its workforce, contributed £119 billion to the economy in 2016 – an increase from £109 billion in 2015. according to new research published by IPSE.

‘These highly skilled, independent professionals are… collectively contributing an economic output that is comparable to the entire motor sales industry,’ says the report.

Freelancing is the fastest growing area of self-employment, with a workforce now 2 million strong, representing a 43% increase between 2008 and 2016. Of these 2 million, 1.77 million freelance as their main job and 234,000 as a second job.

Chris Bryce, IPSE CEO, said: “At a vital time when the economy needs to be dynamic in the face of growing uncertainty, freelancers are providing on-demand resources to businesses allowing them to be flexible in response to change. The vast majority of freelancers love what they do, so it’s no surprise that increasing numbers of people are turning to this way of working.”

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Freelancers of Today

So, who are today’s freelancers, and how did the freelance workforce change between 2008 and 2016?

The gender divide:

  • 41% are female. The number of female freelancers is up 55% and 1 in 7 are working mums, a figure that’s increased by a significant 79%.
  • 59% are male, with numbers up 36%.
  • Sadly, there is still a significantly higher proportion of men not just in managerial and professional roles, but in STEM-centred roles such as engineering (95%); architecture, town planning and surveyor roles (87%); IT and telecommunications professions (86%); and production management and director occupations (80%).
  • Equally disappointing is the higher numbers of women in associate professions and the female dominance of the health associate professions (80%), nursing and midwifery (75%), therapy professions (66%), and teaching and education professions (64%).

The generation gap:

  • The number of freelancers in the 16-29 age bracket has increased by 66%
  • The largest proportion of freelancers are within the 40-49 and 50-59 age brackets. Freelancers in these two age brackets make up nearly half of all freelancers – 48%.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, since the media so strongly promotes the idea of millennials as the ‘gig generation’, one fifth of all freelancers are over 60.
  • The average age of a UK freelancer? 47.

Sector separation:

Freelancers are increasingly widespread across all major industry sectors, but there are definite patterns.

  • 311,000 freelancers currently work in artistic, literary & media occupations. Making up the biggest occupational group – 15% of all freelancers. This group has seen a 103% increase in numbers, and a quarter of them live in London.
  • The fastest growing freelance sector is health associate professionals. This freelance group has nearly doubled in size, with an astonishing increase of 191%.

“It is exciting to see that the younger generation has been enlivened by the prospect of working for themselves,” says Chris Bryce. The reality is increasing numbers of people want to work this way across every sector. It’s important their choice is recognised and policy makers support this trend rather than maintaining an older, less flexible employment model. We’re not living in the 20th century anymore.”


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