A recent survey conducted by The Freelancer Club and the Association of Independent Professional and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has found that freelancers working in creative industries lose over £5k per person, per year due to working for free.
A total of 946 people completed an online questionnaire about their experience of unpaid work over the past two years. The survey found that freelancers had spent around 31 chargeable days in the past two years doing free work. This includes pre-agreed free work as well as projects where an expected fee was simply not paid.
When asked what their daily rate would have been if they were paid, the average amounted to £348. This means an estimated average loss of £5,394 a year.
This survey was created as part of the #NoFreeWork campaign which aims to end exploitation of freelancers whose free work benefits a client financially.
While many might believe that free work is simply reserved for the inexperienced, the survey found that freelancers had on average 7 years’ experience in their fields. Though the majority of respondents (44%) came into the 16-29 age bracket, the average age overall was 33.
The research also found that unpaid work had a disproportionate impact on women, with 67% of those undertaking free work being female.
Why are so many freelancers working without pay?
Gaining exposure for work was the number one reason, with over half (54%) saying that was their main reason for working for free.
Under half (45%) said that they had worked for free in order to have their work associated with a reputable brand.
A worrying 20% said that working for free was a standard practice in their industry.
As a result, both IPSE and The Freelancer Club have teamed up and are calling for the government to install a Small Business Commissioner who would be able to address widespread payment problems and complaints that affect small businesses and freelancers alike.
IPSE Chief Executive Chris Bryce said:
“It appears that many businesses think they can get away with not paying freelancers for their work. This practice is devaluing our creative industries.
Government need to fast-track the appointment of a Small Business Commissioner, who can give people someone to turn to. We’re not talking about people donating their time to charities. If a business is profiting financially from someone’s work then they deserve to be paid.
“If a big proportion of freelancers can’t continue working this way because the expectation is it shouldn’t involve pay, the whole of the UK loses out. Our creative sectors contribute a vast amount to the public purse and we shouldn’t be limiting careers in these fields to those who can afford to go for significant periods without being paid for their efforts.”
The effects of working for free
The research found some worrying statistics of the widespread impact of unpaid work within the freelance community.
- 45% have found themselves struggling to cover work related costs
- 40% found themselves in competition with other freelancers who work for free
- 40% struggled to cover basic living expenses
- Over a third didn’t feel confident in asking for money for projects in the future
- 34% found that clients expected them to work for free
- 21% had been forced out of freelancing and into paid employment
Director of The Freelancer Club, Matt Dowling said:
“I know from personal experience how common it is for big companies to expect freelancers to offer their time and skills for free. But this is a message for freelancers as much as it is for businesses who are taking them on. When you agree to work for free, and the client makes a monetary profit from this free work, you risk creating a race to the bottom that undermines daily rates of pay for the whole industry.”–
Joanne Coates, a freelance visual artist, shared her story:
“Basics, such as paying my rent, had to be put on hold while I found a solution. All my savings had gone… as I believed I would get paid.”
Sign The Freelancer Club’s petition to end unpaid work in the industry here: