‘The freedom of freelancing, the muscle of mutuality’

The number of self-employed people in the UK has risen to nearly five million, the highest level since records began, their ranks being swelled by people trying to avoid unemployment, those who have been made redundant, and especially public sector workers — such as music teachers, educational support workers, and interpreters — whose services have been ‘externalised’.

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In fact, according to an Office for National Statistics report, the rise in total employment since the financial crisis of 2008 has been predominantly among the self-employed.

Men still dominate the self-employment sector, but currently women are entering self-employment faster than men. There has also been a boom in self-employment amongst the over-65s — their number has doubled in five years to reach over half a million.

Less positively, self-employed earnings have fallen by around 22% since 2008.

Against this backdrop, the need for new mutual support structures for the self-employed has assumed a new importance.

There was a very timely piece in The Guardian on just this issue a week or two back: Self-employed set up co-operatives to share costs and services.

The piece focuses primarily on the emergence of new co-operative and mutual structures designed to help self-employed traders work together more effectively by combining their services and sharing marketing and administration.

“Working alone can be aspirational,” says Not Alone, a new report co-written by Pat Conaty (who will be known to many of you) for Co-operatives UK, “but it can also be lonely and anxious. There is an extraordinary opportunity for new co-operative solutions….[that give] the freedom of freelancing with the muscle of mutuality.”

I think it’s great to see Co-operatives UK promoting co-operative ideas to a new and growing audience.

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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