Female creative professional at her desk

Freelancer numbers rise for first time in 12-months

Posted on 4th June 2021 by

According to recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS.gov.uk) there was a welcome rise in the number of freelancers in the UK, up from 4,313,000 in January to 4,331,000 in February1.

The rise is a small one, but hints at an economy which is gradually getting back into gear after a very tough year for the freelance sector.

According to Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) the rise was driven by an increase in the number of female freelancers from 1,547,000 to 1,576,0002.

However, the figure is still over 600,000 lower than at the same time last year2, which shows how badly affected the freelance sector was by the Coronavirus pandemic and other factors including the private sector off-payroll working legislation (IR35).

The total number of self-employed professionals in the UK, also in recent ONS data, shows a total of 4,345,000 in self-employment for the period January 2021 to March 20213.

According to the figures published by the ONS, this is the sixth consecutive quarter where the number of self-employed professionals has decreased, since an all-time high in October 2019 to December 2019 of 5,025,0003.

Total self-employed UK 000s

This hints at the struggle of the small business owner in the high street and a potential drop in independent contractors, both of which will have been fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic and IR35 respectively.

It is too early to tell whether the economy will get back to the levels it once enjoyed a couple of years ago, but the continuation of lockdown easing will undoubtedly help the self-employed sector to gain confidence and improve business performance.



  1. First rise in freelancers since pandemic “cause for cautious optimism” – Contractor Weekly
  2. IPSE: first freelancer increase since the pandemic “cause for cautious optimism” | IPSE
  3. EMP14: Employees and self-employed by industry – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

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Author Phil Ainley, Marketing Manager