The body’s report, Not Alone, tracks current levels of self-employment and the ways in which co-ops can help freelancers meet shared needs. The key findings are:
- At 15% of the workforce, government statistics show that 4.6 million people are now self-employed – the highest numbers in the UK since record began
- One in four employees (27%) in medium-sized firms in the UK would like to work in self-employment (22% in small firms, 14% in the public sector)
- The number of freelancers is likely to grow further over the next year, reflecting a significant change in the pattern of work in the economy
In line with this growth in self-employment, the report identifies examples of freelancers coming together to form co-operatives for shared services, from back-office support, debt management and contract advice to access to finance and sickness insurance and the shared use of equipment and access to workspace.
There are a number of examples across the UK of co-ops of self-employed workers, from music teachers forming a co-operative to market their services to schools, to interpreters laid off by Capita providing interpretation services in judicial courts through a co-op.
But, the report also identifies considerable scope for the growth of services in the UK, pointing to well-developed approaches overseas.
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “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.
“Self-employment offers freedom and, by coming together in co-ops, freelancers can share the risks and responsibility.”
Pat Conaty, co-author of the report and a freelancer himself, also 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.”
“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.”
The report is published by Co-operatives UK, Wales Co-operative Centre and Unity Trust Bank. The full report and a summary can be downloaded from www.uk.coop/notalone