Making the leap from salaried employment to freelancing or contracting through umbrella companies is catching on across Europe, according to a new study conducted by a renowned economist.

Since 2000, the number of people working as Independent Professionals (iPros) in Europe has doubled, the research reported in Shout 99 reveals.

Leading economist Stephane Rapelli carried out the research for the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP) and found that overall employment rates have been languishing across the continent during the last decade; however, over the same interval, the ranks of Europe’s iPros (PAYE umbrella contractors and freelancers) have soared to over eight million.

The UK stands at the forefront of the trend with 1.6 million contractors and freelancers, closely followed by Germany with 1.5 million. Also featuring high on the list are France, with 0.7 million iPros, and Poland, with 0.5 million.

Especially significant is the finding that EU countries with the highest numbers of contractors are the most resilient during economic downturns. PCG managing director John Brazier, who is president of the EFIP, said that contracting is not only on the rise but is also making a valuable contribution to the economic wellbeing of nations across the continent. He added: “Having access to freelancers in an economy provides flexibility, value and minimises risk to businesses. This is important when times are good but when times are bad, these factors become the difference between success and failure.”

His remarks were endorsed by Conservative employment spokesman in Brussels, Anthea McIntyre MEP, who said that the growth of contracting in the face of tough economic conditions “presents policy makers with crucial insight into the makeup of the sector.”

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