Just 24 hours after being named the self-employment capital of western Europe in a report by a prominent think tank, the latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown another record-breaking increase in levels of self-employment across the UK. The number of freelancers and contractors has grown by 50% to top 4.5 million in the last 13 years, and today’s numbers showed a new record high of 4.59 million.

This new all-time high shows an increase of some 10,000 from last month’s figures, which recorded 4.58 million freelancers and contractors.

The figures also showed that unemployment has fallen again to reach 6.4% – the lowest figure since the beginning of the financial crisis – while overall employment grew 167,000 on the first quarter of the year to reach 30.6 million. The total number of people in employment is now 820,000 higher than a year ago.

While bodies such as the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, PCG and RSA have welcomed the UK’s booming self-employed population, various groups – most vocally the Trade Union Congress – have raised concerns that many workers adopting a freelance lifestyle are doing so out of necessity rather than choice. They also point out that the self-employed earn a lower average salary than permanent employees, and lack certain employee rights such as unfair dismissal or paid parental leave.

A recent study by the RSA, however, found that the majority of independent professionals are making a conscious choice to work for themselves, and most wouldn’t go back to a 9-to-5 job despite their lower earnings.

These record figures will pile yet more pressure on the Government to change the way the self-employed are measured as part of the UK’s employment picture. Currently self-employed earnings are not factored into average salary figures (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves recently wrote to the ONS to ask they be included), and methods of measuring the true number of freelancers and contractors are fuzzy at best. Self-employed people may be freelancing part-time, full-time, may operate through their own limited company, or work through an agency or umbrella company. Currently there is no centralised measure.

Photo by Vinoth Chander