The contribution made by freelancing and contracting professionals to the UK economy soared to £109bn last year, new research from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) has found.

The study, launched at IPSE’s flagship conference yesterday, suggests that the £109 billion total is actually a conservative estimate: freelancers (including Umbrella Company Employees and other contracting workers) are likely to contribute even more revenue. As they are predominantly made up of highly skilled, specialist professionals, their contribution is typically considerably higher than that of other businesses.

Freelancers and contractors now account for six per cent of the UK’s workforce, climbing in number by 36 per cent since 2008 to reach 1.91 million. Of striking importance is the finding that 1.65 million have actively chosen to freelance as their main job, while 255,000 are freelancing as a second job.

Commenting on the study, IPSE CEO Chris Bryce said: “Every day freelancers make an enormous contribution to businesses across the UK and the economy as a whole. Research shows 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.

“Large firms, and increasingly, SMEs are tapping into this growing pool of independent workers who are available on demand, with the specialist skills to hit the ground running. There are few signs of the growth in freelancing slowing down any time soon.”

The Minister for Small Businesses, Ann Soubry, declared that freelancing contractors “know their trades inside out and make a massive contribution to our economy.” She said that the Government is right to do everything it can to support them, pointing to the new Enterprise Bill, which will become law in the near future. Ms Soubry added that she looked forward to appointing the Small Business Commissioner, who is expected to become a powerful voice for the self-employed. The work of freelancers should continue to be championed by Government, which should also go on recognising the challenges they face, she said.

Meanwhile, the report’s author, Professor John Kitching of Kingston University London, said that freelancing is now a significant contributor to the country’s economy. Freelancing and contracting professionals operate today in all sectors of the economy and are made up of male and female, young and old, throughout the country. He added that their rising numbers were clear evidence that they are resilient to shifting economic conditions.

The study also confirms that rising numbers of mothers are turning to freelancing, with their ranks having climbed by 70 per cent since 2008. Mature workers (aged 60 plus) have also risen dramatically since 2008, climbing by 63 per cent.

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