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Summary Extracts from
‘The Freelance Project and Gig Economies of the 21st Century’

The Centre for Research on Self-Employment—the London-based IPSE international think-tank on freelancing

Andrew Burke Dean of Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin and
Chair of the CRSE (Centre for Research on Self-Employment)


“This 2.1 million-strong (freelancer) group not only offers true freedom and flexibility to people across the UK; it also generates between 140 and 145bn pounds for the economy every single year.”

“There can be no more blunt, one-size-fits-all policies. Right now, freelancers and the self-employed need policies that cater to their varied ways of working: be it projects, gigs or a portfolio of different kinds of work.”

  • “The freelance economy is divided into three different forms of work: project, gig and portfolio.
    • 73 per cent of freelancers are focused on project-based work.
    • 15 per cent are focused on gig-based work.
    • 12 per cent do mixed or ‘portfolio’ work.
    • 1 per cent do not define their work as project-, gig- or portfolio-based.
  • The project-based freelancers account for 73 per cent or 104bn of the 140-145 billion pounds economic output.”

“All too often today, when the media and policymakers turn their attention to self employment, they focus on low-skilled, vulnerable work in the so-called ‘gig economy’.”

“Little attention is paid to the productive and dynamic highly-skilled freelance sector. This group can be defined as the roughly 2.1 million freelance managers, directors, professionals, associate professionals and others in Standard Occupational Classifications (SOCs) 1-3.”

“There have been many factors driving the growth of freelance workers in the UK over the last two decades. These are often classified by push and pull factors.

  • Push factors can amount to a lack of employment opportunities (Millán et al., 2015) or a major dislike of employee style of work and the job satisfaction associated with it (Meager, 2015).
  • Pull factors can amount to major opportunities for freelancers (e.g. increased project opportunities in the innovation-driven economy, Burke 2012) or a preference for a more flexible and independent style of working (Binder, 2018).”

“… we observe a total of 84 per cent of the SOC2 freelance economy is accounted for by the project based work. This is 12 times the size of the freelance gig economy…”

“… amongst the same grouping of the high skilled self-employed workforce, the project-based economy is roughly five times the value of the gig economy.”

“The statistical evidence also indicates that for the typical worker, high skilled gig work generates higher quarterly income than equivalent employee work. It seems that skill rather than the nature of the employment contract is the most important determinant of a worker’s income and therefore this, rather than the contract, offers more opportunity to deal with low paid work.”



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