The ranks of the UK’s professional freelancing and contracting community have surged by 35% since 2008 to hit 1.88 million, new research from Kingston University and IPSE reveals.

Women have led the way in expanding the number of highly skilled professionals who have chosen to work independently, rising by 41% over the same period. The number of men trading permanent roles for Umbrella Employment and other forms of freelancing grew by 30.5%, while the number of mothers making the same choice leapt by nearly 60%.

Intriguingly there are growing numbers of young people aged 16-29 joining the freelancing community: their numbers rose by 26% since 2008.

IPSE’s head of research, education and training, Suneeta Johal, said that the study adds to mounting evidence that the labour market is changing structurally and not merely cyclically.

Describing the figures as “hugely impressive”, Ms Johal noted an 8.7% jump in the total number of independent professionals over the last year and a massive 35.1% increase since 2008 – expansions that have now put the total number of professional freelancers in the UK at 1.88 million.

Ms Johal added: “Breaking down the sectoral figures sheds light on how this growth has been achieved. Information technology and communications has seen a 71% increase in numbers, whilst health and the art and literary sectors have both seen an almost 100% increase.”

The big increase in the number of freelance mothers, Ms Johal said, showed that the flexibility delivered by independent working has become an ever-more attractive option for people whose priority is a good work-life balance.

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