IPSE: first freelancer increase since the pandemic “cause for cautious optimism”

IPSE has welcomed new ONS data showing the first month-on-month increase in the number of freelancers since the beginning of the pandemic. The data revealed the number of UK self-employed increased slightly from 4,313,000 in January to 4,331,000 in February. The figure was, however, still 617,000 lower than the same time last year.

IPSE called the month-on-month increase a “cause for cautious optimism” as the economy opens up. The month-on-month increase was driven by a rise in the number of female freelancers from 1,547,000 to 1,576,000.

This tallies with IPSE data showing that a quarter of freelancers’ businesses (24%) have returned to pre-pandemic levels, while nearly a third (29%) believed the easing of restrictions this week would also give an added boost to their businesses. IPSE’s Confidence Index has also found that highly skilled freelancers’ average earnings rose by 20 per cent in the first quarter of the year – back to pre-pandemic levels. It also showed their confidence in the economy has dramatically risen – to the highest level since Q4 2015.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), said: “This first month-on-month increase in freelancer numbers in over a year is cause for cautious optimism. Although the year-on-year drop is testament to the drastic financial damage of the pandemic, the monthly increase – taken with our data on rising business performance – gives us hope that the freelance sector is on its way back.

“Freelancers are the leading edge of the economy and have always played a key part in economic recovery. To fully unleash this potential, however, government must do more to support the sector. Many excluded freelancers are now struggling under enormous amounts of debt, and government should consider ways to relieve this. Meanwhile, the IR35 changes have left many contractors trying to navigate the near-unregulated world of umbrella companies: government must step in to support them and underpin the continued recovery of the sector.”

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