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Over 4.5 million people are now self-employed in the UK and the number is rising every year

A new survey has underlined the appeal of a freelancer lifestyle ahead of working within a larger organisation. Commissioned by specialist accountants Nixon Williams, the Contractor Report 2015 tells an upbeat tale of opportunity and greater respect once out of a PAYE structure.

Over 4.5 million people are now self-employed in the UK and the number is rising every year. The survey asked 1,000 UK contractors working in a variety of sectors questions about what industry they worked in, age, gender, location of contract work, rates of pay and contract length and what they enjoyed most about the contractor lifestyle.

Opportunity to earn more money was top of the list for 79 percent of those surveyed, with over 60 percent saying leaving office politics behind was the best move they ever made.

Flexibility (62 percent) and a sense of freedom (55 percent) also came high up the agenda of benefits, with one in two saying they had improved work/life balance.

Commenting on the findings, Nixon Williams CEO Simon Curry said: “Our clients told us there was more recognition of their expertise once they became contractors and there was more opportunity to develop skills, because additional work came as a result.”

According to the report the majority of daily earnings range between £400 and £749 with a small minority of people (1.3 percent) getting more than £1000 a day and a few commanding over £2500 daily. Only 2.6 percent said they earned less than £199 per day.

One in four contractors said rates of pay had increased in the last 12 months and the picture was stable one. Nearly 50 percent said there had been no change to rates of pay in the last year with contracts lasting four to six months for one in three. A lucky few (6 percent) enjoyed three-year deals.

Driving people into contractor status is a burgeoning UK IT sector. Over half the contractors questioned worked in project technology roles.

London Skyline. Image credit Davide D'Amico

Over 45 percent of contractors are servicing projects in the capital. Image credit Davide D’Amico

Nixon Williams CEO Simon Curry said that IT had always been a popular contractor field with expertise being brought in to specialist developer projects. “The rise in Cloud computing, development of more complex IT-based infrastructure in big organisations and the growth of online retailing is providing lucrative careers for certain individuals with the right skills,” he said, “And most of it is London-based.” Over 45 percent of contractors are servicing projects in the capital according to the survey.

Contracting is still dominated by men; 85 percent of respondents were male with 15% female, although this is changing. Latest figures from the ONS suggest that there is an increase in female interest in being self-employed. “We expect this gap to close in future years,” said Curry

An overwhelming 77.5 percent said going self-employed had been a positive choice not something they had been forced into and the majority had moved into self-employment (80 percent) between the ages of 31 and 50, slightly more between 31 and 40.

Hitting a glass ceiling in terms of progression, scope of work and earning potential, and lack recognition were common experiences in this age group, which prompted a move into self-employment. Only 5 percent of contractors in the survey were under 30.

Simon Curry concluded: “Today’s employment market is fluid, it has to be to meet the fluctuations in demands of modern business, but there is no doubt that many British people are turning their backs on the employment status quo in favour of a contractor lifestyle.”