Self-employed numbers hit new high

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A new study of self-employment in the UK has found that freelance numbers have reached record levels and that many more people would like to be their own boss.

The Not Alone report published by Co-operatives UK tracks current levels of self-employment and examines the ways in which co-ops can help freelancers meet shared needs.

Its findings show that 15% of the UK workforce are now self-employed. It means 4.6 million people work for themselves, the highest number in the UK since records began.

And many employees want to join the ranks of the self-employed, according to the research, including 27% of employees in medium-sized firms, 22% in small firms and 14% in the public sector.

Pat Conaty, co-author of the report, said: "Self‑employment is at a record level, but it is not yet at the high water mark. The pressure and the promise that lead people to go freelance will continue to swell the ranks of the self-employed over the coming year."

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: "More and more people are turning to self-employment, whether out of choice or necessity. Our data shows this is likely to grow, with a significant number of people who are currently in employment interested in going freelance."

But while self-employment offers certain freedoms it can also be a precarious business; this report flags up examples of freelancers that have formed co-operatives to share services including workspaces, insurance, equipment and even access to finance.

Pat Conaty said: "Working alone can be aspirational, but it can also be lonely and anxious. There is an extraordinary opportunity for new co-operative solutions for self-employed people, giving them the freedom of freelancing with the muscle of mutuality."

According to the TUC, some 300,000 self-employed people have already joined trade unions. General secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Many more could benefit from being part of co-ops and unions, and as a movement we need to reach out to them."

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