Freelancer Cooperatives

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* Report: Not Alone. Trade Union and Cooperative Solutions To Self-Employment. By Pat Conaty. Co-operatives UK, 2016



Giles Simon:

"The new tax year, which starts on 6 April, will see record numbers of self-employed workers, according to new data published by Co-operatives UK, a body that supports freelancers coming together for shared services.

The body’s report, Not Alone, tracks current levels of self-employment and the ways in which co-ops can help freelancers meet shared needs. The key findings are:

- At 15% of the workforce, government statistics show that 4.6 million people are now self-employed – the highest numbers in the UK since record began

- One in four people (27%) of employees in medium-sized firms in the UK would like to work in self-employment (22% in small firms, 14% in the public sector).

- The number of freelancers is likely to grow further over the next year, reflecting a significant change in the pattern of work in the economy

- The average income of self-employed workers fell by 22% in the five years up to 2014, indicating a growth in lower paid self-employed workers

In line with this growth in self-employment, the report identifies examples of freelancers coming together to form co-operatives for shared services, from back-office support, debt management and contract advice to access to finance and sickness insurance and the shared use of equipment and access to workspace.

There are a number of examples across the UK of co-ops of self-employed workers, from fifty music teachers forming a co-operative to market their services to schools, to interpreters laid off by Capita providing interpretation services in judicial courts through a co-op.

But the report also identifies considerable scope for the growth of services in the UK, pointing to well-developed approaches overseas.

In the USA, the Freelancers Union provides its 280,000 members with advice and insurance. In Belgium, SMart is a co-op offering invoicing and payments for 60,000 freelancer members. In France, new legislation allows self-employed workers to access the sickness pay and benefits of conventional employees through co-operatives.

Pat Conaty, co-author of the report and a freelancer himself, said:

"Self-employment is at a record level, but it is not yet at the high water mark. The pressure and the promise that lead people to go freelance will continue to swell the ranks of the self-employed over the coming year."

"Working alone can be aspirational, but it can also be lonely and anxious. There is an extraordinary opportunity for new co-operative solutions for self-employed people, giving them the freedom of freelancing with the muscle of mutuality."


Examples of freelancer co-ops:

Co-operative Wealth is made up of nine independent financial advisers. Having worked for a range of employers and as freelancers, they set up the co-op in order to market their services and cut costs on back office services.

Ricol was set up in 2012 when a group of interpreters were made redundant from business services firm, Capita. They formed a co-operative that provides a range of translation services, for businesses and judicial courts, as a way to promote their work and share costs.

Swindon Music Co-operative was formed in 1998 when the local authority disbanded its music service for schools. 20 music teachers, no longer employed by the council, formed the co-op to market their services. The co-op now has 50 teachers in membership.

Gilded Splinters is a co-op of 42 specialists in advertising, film, design and marketing more widely. Most of the people work elsewhere as well, but come together for specific projects for the co-op. They offer a consultancy service that aims to help organisations generate ideas and offers them for free, allowing the organisation to choose whether to use Gilded Splinters or not.

More Information

The full report and a summary can be downloaded from

Contact, for interviews, case studies or more information, Giles Simon on 07952 644 833 / [email protected]

  • : Co-operatives UK is the network for Britain’s thousands of co-operatives. Together we work to promote, develop and unite member-owned businesses across the economy. From high street retailers to community owned pubs, fan owned football clubs to farmer controlled businesses, co-operatives are everywhere and together they are worth £37 billion to the British economy.