The UK Is Clearly Not a Good Place to Be a Freelancer

Being self-employed can have its perks, but according to a recent study, it's also mostly terrible.
June 13, 2016, 9:34am

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Nothing like the gig economy to make us young people feel like we're living the dream. Wake up at 11, stroll over to a coffee shop, bleed their WiFi dry doing stimulating odd-jobs for other creatives around the world – unlike our parents, out there in legitimate professions, working the 9 to 6 grind, butt-kissing managers and having to deal with other human beings.

Or so you think, before you spend exactly one week as a freelancer and realise the dream is very much that: a dream. Analysis of data released by HM Revenue shows that almost 80 percent of self-employed people in the UK are living in poverty, according to Tax Research UK.


Head of analysis for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Helen Barnard, told the Independent: "Many self-employed people work in low-paid industries, like cleaning or taxi-driving, and are unlikely to employ anyone else or grow into a bigger business. The typical self-employed person earns 40 percent less than an employee and is more likely to live on a low income. During the recession, many more people became self-employed, but income from self-employment fell much more than employees' wages."

Worryingly, the Social Market Foundation predicts that the national living wage, introduced in April, will only widen the gap further as self-employed people won't receive that increase and their rates for work will, for the most part, stay the same.

It's likely this all affects a number of people you know, and maybe even you yourself. Whether out of choice or because, increasingly, fewer full-time positions are up for grabs, the number of self-employed people in Britain has been rising sharply for years. Research from IPSE, a membership body that supports freelancers and contractors, shows that between 2008 and 2015 the number of freelancers in the UK increased by 36 percent to just under 2 million. In many fields, figures were staggeringly up – notably the number of media business freelancers, which grew by 115 percent in that period.

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