Figures released today highlight the long-term rise in the number of people in self-employment and living in private rented accommodation over the last three decades.
The figures are published as an index by the network for Britain’s co-operative businesses, Co-operatives UK. It finds that self-employment as a proportion of employment in the UK has increased from 11.6 per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent in 2015 - and the number of households in private rented accommodation has grown from 9 per cent to 22 per cent during the same period. While there have been one-off dips in the number of people living in private rental accommodation (in the late 1980s) and in self-employment (around the year 2000), together the index suggests that precariousness in work and housing has increased consistently and nearly doubled over the last 30 years.
"Co-operatives are being formed by self-employed people who know that they are stronger together," Ed Mayo, Co-operatives UK
The new index comes on the back of an event being organised by Co-operatives UK and hosted by the TUC to explore ways for the growing number of people in self-employment to work together to secure basic right and conditions. Since 2008 the average earnings from self-employment has dropped from £15,000 to £10,400 - a median weekly income of £207. Freelancers lack the social protection of those in traditional employment, particularly in relation to a lack of sick pay, paid maternity leave, holiday pay and redundancy.
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “Precariousness is coming to define our time. Particularly for younger people, the expectation of a secure job and stable home seems more far-fetched than ever.
“Self-employment, of course, provides freedom and flexibility. But it also brings insecurity. By coming together to share the costs of practical services, freelancers can begin to get what they need, whether that’s reducing the cost of office space or buying insurance. From artists and actors to taxi drivers and teachers, co-operatives are being formed by self-employed people who know that they are stronger together.”
Commentators have dubbed the rise of freelancers as the 'new precariat', because the opportunities of self-employment are matched by risks that were formerly covered by the employment rights of a paid job. In the United States, the Freelancers Union was formed in 2008 to provide practical services such as health insurance for self-employed people and lobby on their behalf for legislation appropriate for people outside of traditional employment. It now has 267,000 members.
Co-operative freelancers in action
Music teachers’ co-operatives
Many music teachers, previously employed by local authorities, have turned freelance in recent years after local government cuts led councils to cease providing that service. A number are now forming co-operatives in order to provide security for their work. The Swindon Music Co-operative was the first, with new co-operatives emerging in Newcastle, Grimsby and the Isle of Wight. In Milton Keynes all instrumental teachers were made redundant. Since then 68 teachers have formed a co-operative, providing accessible and affordable service to schools. The demand is such that a new guide has been produced by the Musicians’ Union to provide music teachers with advice on setting up a co-operative.
Artists and designers – and creative freelancers more widely – have often been interested in their own independence as well as collaboration, and so a co-operative has been a natural fit. There are thousands of people in the creative industries using co-operatives to share office or gallery space, to market their products and to work together – from co-operatives of designers and film-makers like Birmingham’s Paper Rhino to arts studios like Ceramic Arts Studio in Bristol and actors’ co-operatives such as North of Watford Actors’ Co-operative in West Yorkshire.
Driving instructors’ co-operatives
Typically driving instructors are self-employed and join a driving school franchise but there are some who want more control over their work and have formed co-operatives with their colleagues. Evo Driver Training in the Isle of Wight is a co-operative of self-employed driving instructors, whilst the Driveway School Motoring has been operating since 1989 and is one of the leading driving schools in East Anglia.