Freelancers are thriving on both sides of the pond, but have politicians noticed?

freelancersTwo new reports that highlight the growth of the freelance and self-employed workforce in both the UK and US also suggest that politicians and civil servants in both countries have little real understanding about the changing nature of work. According to the UK government’s regular Business Population Estimates report, the number of private sector businesses is at an all-time high, around 5.5 million, up by a million since 2010. Yet the report fails to distinguish between freelancers, the self-employed and traditional SMEs, except to omit firms that are too small to pay VAT from its numbers. The trade association IPSE estimates that there are some 4.6 million self-employed and freelance workers in the UK, yet the BPE report does not account for the overlap in numbers. Even within the BPE’s own numbers, there are suggestions that its conclusions do not match the data. The annual growth in non-employing businesses outstripped those who employed others by a factor of 6:1 and 76 percent of businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner. And the growth comes despite the fact that the self-employed in the UK now earn marginally less than they did 20 years ago.

A similar scenario may also be apparent in the US, where the number of freelancers now stands at 55 million, or just over a third of the working population, according to a study the pressure group Freelancers Union and freelance website Upwork.  According to the report, since 2014, there are now around 2 million more US workers who have started freelancing and they contribute around $1 trillion to the US economy.  Yet, according to the study, the group tend to be overlooked by politicians who are yet to realise that freelancers have different needs and perspectives to traditional businesses yet wield potentially game changing political power.

Summary

According to the UK BPE study:

  • There were a record 5.5 million private sector businesses at the start of 2016. This is an increase of 97,000 since 2015, and 2 million more than in 2000
  • The number of employing businesses increased by 14,000 (+1 percent) since 2015, and the number of non-employing businesses by 84,000 (+2 percent)
  • ‘Small businesses’ accounted for 99.3 percent of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016 and 99.9 percent were small or medium-sized (SMEs) (report’s own definitions)
  • Total employment was 15.7 million; 60 percent of all private sector employment in the UK
  • The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.8 trillion, 47 percent of all private sector turnover in the UK

 

According to the Freelancer Union / Upwork study:

  • Between 2014 and 2016, the US freelance workforce grew by 2 million workers, from 53 to 55 million, earning an estimated $1 trillion over the final year of the report
  • 63 percent of freelancers say they started more by choice than necessity, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2014
  • Compared to traditional employment, 79 percent of freelancers say freelancing is better; half (50 percent) say there’s no amount of money that would get them to take a traditional job and stop freelancing
  • Full-time freelancers also say they’re able to work less than 40 hours per week (36 hours/week on average), and the majority feel they have the right amount of work
  • 73 percent agree technology has made it easier to find freelance work, an increase of four percentage points since 2014. The amount of work they obtain online has increased in the past year, say 66 percent of freelancers
  • Freelancers say perceptions of freelancing are becoming more positive (63 percent) and respected as a career path (60 percent). Nearly half of full-time freelancers (46 percent) raised their rates in the past year, and more than half (54 percent) plan to raise them next year
  • The biggest challenges facing freelancers come down to stability and support. Among full-time freelancers, top concerns are: 1) being paid a fair rate, 2) unpredictable income, and 3) debt
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