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In the last 15 to 20 years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of professionals who are choosing to become freelancers and contractors over employees working in full-time positions – but why? Our article will have a look at some of the factors that have caused this rise in the number of self-employed workers in the United Kingdom.

The self-employed population has reached 4.86 million in the United Kingdom (UK) and this means that over 15% of the entire UK workforce consists of freelancers and contractors. 20 years ago, the number of contractors was in the tens of thousands, but today, contractors constitute a significant proportion of the UK workforce. You may be wondering why we have seen such a big shift. Why is it now more desirable to be a self-employed professional? Keep reading to find out some of the key reasons there has been such a change in the UK.


There have been many triumphant technological advances over the last 15 to 20 years and people are now reliant upon technology to increase the efficiency of almost everything they do in their day-to-day activities. The recent advances in technology in the UK have resulted in thousands of new highly skilled job opportunities.

An example of an industry that has thrived over the last two decades is the IT software sector. The number of leading IT software providers in the UK market is ever increasing. These companies require highly capable professionals with expert knowledge and this has presented openings for workers to benefit from becoming their own boss. Because of their high demand, the workers in need are more willing to become self-employed and negotiate the terms of their own contracts. It is of course in their interest to be outside of IR35 legislation if they are to benefit from a higher take-home pay and a better stance to negotiate their contract – compared to an employee in a full-time position.

Work-life balance

Working Monday to Friday between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm has for decades been considered the normal way professionals work. Back in the late 90’s, the suggestion of changing this pattern would have been considered impractical and unnecessary.

However, as the demand for a better and fairer work-life balance increases from employees, flexible hours have been introduced in major corporations, as well as the option to work from home for significant chunks of the working week.

Because self-employed professionals can negotiate the terms of their contracts, many employees in full-time work have opted to become independent so that they can benefit from a better work-life balance. This has meant that freelancers and contractors can talk to their client about the assignment at hand and discuss the best way for both parties to be happy with how the assignment is undertaken.

Increase in agency and contract workers

A lot of industries rely on agency and contract workers to fill short-term and temporary positions. Other industries, such as the healthcare industry, require emergency staff on an ad-hoc basis so that periods of high demand are covered.

Part-time and contract roles are dependent on factors such as fluctuating business, increased technology and economic uncertainty. Furthermore, subcontracting talent enables companies to upsell their services by hiring temporary workers to complete tasks to broaden their organisation’s portfolio of offerings.

The gig economy

The gig economy is a fairly new phenomenon where working on short-term contracts as a freelancer or contractor is frequently perceived as being preferable compared to seeking full-time employment. Websites such as Monster, CV-Library and People Per Hour are being utilised by professionals looking for or offering their services for temporary projects.

University graduates and people in their twenties are now understanding the benefits of becoming a freelancer and contractor and many are setting up their own limited companies immediately after completing their studies. One sector where graduates are seen to be flourishing is the creative industry, where thousands of businesses are being set up from web design to graphic design.

It is worth noting that the gig economy is also subject to criticism because it is seen as the last resort for some professionals who are only able to land temporary assignments due to a lack of full-time positions. Unfortunately, the working as part of the gig economy may not provide these workers with the job security they are seeking.

Are you looking for more information to help you determine if you are ready to become self-employed? Our ‘Becoming a Contractor’ guide will be able to provide you with guidance and so will our ‘Benefits of a Limited Company’ section.

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