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Brighton Fuse Freelancer Report

Date: 26/01/2015

New report finds freelancers in creative, digital and IT companies fuel prosperity and growth

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded study finds first empirical evidence that self-employment in the Creative-Digital-IT sector fuels prosperity and success.

The growth of self-employment in the UK economy is often interpreted negatively, with claims that this is a second-class status, unstable, and enforced through necessity. Yet, new research focused on the Creative-Digital-IT (CDIT) cluster in Brighton demonstrates that freelancers enjoy good incomes, and are satisfied with their employment.

With creative industries accounting for a growing proportion of the UK economy, greater than construction, advanced manufacturing, and financial services, this research is significant in revealing the stability of self-employed individuals who are contributing to growth and innovation across a wide range of areas, the largest of which is online services.

Freelancers earn a median income of £42,857 (FTE) and work an average of 38.2 hours per week. Their wellbeing is in line with national averages, and they enjoy this mode of work and its autonomy. Indeed, the majority prefer to be self-employed (94%), rather than being an employee.

They have high levels of innovation, and are often contracted by clients to do the most leading-edge work in projects. Results from the 2013 Brighton Fuse report revealed that Brighton's firms employ an average of 7 freelancers each year. The majority of the freelancers surveyed in 2014 engaged in innovation over the previous year (83.5%). In addition to London and local business, international revenue is important to nearly a quarter of the respondents (24.7%). Many aspire to develop products and services and see running a company with employees in their future. Over 40% already have registered Ltd companies.

The initial Brighton Fuse research published in 2013 revealed that high growth businesses fuse the creative and digital in their work. The new report supports this further, indicating that freelancers with more Creative-Digital ‘Fusion’ in their work achieve a higher income than the ‘unfused’ specialists. Arts and Humanities combine with STEM skillsets to generate greater revenues.

This research surveyed 304 freelancers (25.8% response rate) combined with 32 qualitative interviews and was conducted by the University of Brighton and University of Sussex with Wired Sussex as a business partner.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

Investing in growth areas such as the digital and creative industries is a key part of our long-term economic plan to back business, create jobs and secure a brighter future for Britain.

Our digital economy is already one of the strongest markets in the world and the UK creative industries generate £71 billion in revenue each year and support 1.71 million jobs.

This study shows that the self-employed play a key role in driving the culture of innovation in the creative and digital industries and are a vital part of Britain's economic growth.

Dr Jonathan Sapsed, Principal Investigator on the Brighton Fuse project and Research Fellow at CENTRIM in University of Brighton's Business School, said:

This research shows that self-employment is not a second-best mode of work for these creative-digital-IT freelancers. The overwhelming majority prefer this status and are looking to expand their self-employed activities. 40% have registered companies and many go on to become employers, but this is not the only path. Many freelancers simply dream of greater and greater independence and choice in how they spend their working lives.

Dr Roberto Camerani, Co-Investigator on the project and a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex, said:

Freelancers achieve good results in terms of earnings and growth rates, showing, at the same time, a high level of wellbeing. Freelancing emerges as both a lifestyle and a working-style choice, a viable option to combine a fulfilling professional career with other aspirations, such as the personal, familial, altruistic, or artistic.

Professor Rick Rylance, Chief Executive of the AHRC, said:

This research provides more evidence of the innovative culture within the UK's Creative Economy. We cannot dismiss the significant and growing contribution of self-employed workers in the Creative-Digital-IT sector. There are important policy discussions that follow on from these findings on how to best support the work of these crucial and pioneering workers.

For further information on the research, visit www.brightonfuse.com. You can also access an executive summary of the report, and download the full report (PDF 5.3MB).

For further information, see the 2013 Brighton Fuse report which revealed how high growth businesses fuse technology and arts.

For further information contact Alex Pryce (AHRC) on 01793 41 6025 or a.pryce@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes to editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class research in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and many more. Each year the AHRC spends approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training often in collaboration with partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds provide considerable economic, social and cultural benefits to the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to: www.ahrc.ac.uk
  • The University of Brighton is one of the most popular universities in the country in terms of student applications. It has a distinguished history going back to 1859 when its first classes were established in the Brighton Royal Pavilion. It was the first university to be named the Sunday Times 'University of the Year' and it won the 'Outstanding contribution to the local community' title at the Times Higher Education Awards. In 2011 the university won further international recognition for its community projects through the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship. An independent report in 2014 calculated that the University of Brighton contributes close to £700m annually to the economy and supports more than 7,000 jobs. Over 21,000 students study University of Brighton programmes from foundation degrees to doctoral research programmes. Courses span a wide range of academic and professional disciplines, and the university receives national and international recognition for its research activity. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 placed 27th out of 128 universities and research institutions for our world-leading research impact.
  • Founded in 1961, the University of Sussex is among the leading research universities in the UK, with 98 per cent of its research rated as world leading, internationally excellent or internationally recognised (REF 2014). The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014 rank Sussex as 14th in the UK, 43rd in Europe and 111th in the world. The University of Sussex has more than 13,000 students and 2,200 staff, from more than 120 countries. The University has counted among its faculty three Nobel Prize winners, 13 Fellows of the Royal Society, six Fellows of the British Academy and a winner of the prestigious Crafoord Prize. International in its outlook and interdisciplinary in its approach, Sussex is based on a single campus, designed by Sir Basil Spence, in rolling parkland between the seaside city of Brighton and Hove and the South Downs National Park. Sussex research tackles major world issues, with leading areas of expertise such as climate change and development studies.


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