[Ed. Note: This article was published in February 2019, before Brexit took place and before the Covid-19 outbreak. Even though we have chosen not to delete this content yet, please be aware that the information provided is likely not to be relevant anymore]
Ever since June 2016, when the UK Brexit Referendum set in motion a divorce between the UK and the EU, it has been unclear how – or indeed if – the two sides would eventually agree on the specifics of the split. This uncertainty has had a pronounced effect on the British economy in the intervening years, hampering things like import and export activity and depressing property markets nationwide. At the same time, the pending separation has also caused the number of EU citizens who come to live and work in the UK to plummet, and Brexit is having a significant impact on the UK job market, as well as on the daily life of many European workers still living and working in the United Kingdom.
The labour shortage created by the drop-off in foreign workers is having an impact in almost every industry in the UK, which is fuelling the largest rise in wages in a decade. It also means that for the first time in what seems like forever, employers no longer hold all of the cards and workers are gaining an increased amount of flexibility in their careers. Rising labour demand and dwindling supply mean that this an excellent time for UK-based workers to strike out on their own and becoming freelancers.
What Brexit really means for UK freelancers, contractors and micro-businesses: 5 truths
1: Uncertainty equals higher pay rates
- One of the biggest reasons that the looming Brexit may positively affect freelancers in the UK is the fact that businesses crave flexibility in the face of uncertain market conditions.
- That means freelancers can find more opportunities and can command far higher pay rates than ever before because businesses are now willing to pay a premium to build a workforce that can scale up or down as economic conditions require.
2: The labour shortage is in high-skill industries
- As previously mentioned, the number of EU citizens coming to the UK to work has slowed dramatically in the wake of Brexit referendum, and this is creating an imbalance in the labour market.
- The fact that it’s been happening at a time when nationwide unemployment is at a low not seen since 1975 is preventing the market from rebalancing itself and is driving up wages in multiple sectors.
- What’s important with respect to the rise of freelance workers is what types of jobs are facing the worst labour shortages. A recent survey indicates that nine in ten employers are having difficulty recruiting candidates in high-skill positions: once again, that means more work and higher pay for freelancers in the labour pool.
3: A boom in recruitment and HR needs
- The Brexit labour crunch is also creating a fertile environment for freelancers in many unexpected places. As skills shortages worsen, growing pressure on businesses to secure talent is sparking a corresponding boom in the HR sector, creating even more opportunities for freelance HR professionals and causing an upswing in corporate investment into HR courses.
- This is a great example of a feedback loop that’s beneficial for freelancers.
4: Attitude toward freelancers is shifting
- Finally, the last sign of the impact that Brexit will have on freelancers is the fact that businesses in every sector are beginning to rely more and more on contractors, with recent research indicating that 64% of UK businesses have already embraced the practice.
- In addition, a number of labour market analysts believe that as much as 50% of the labour force in the UK could go freelance by 2020. If that comes to pass, it would represent a marked shift in the attitude of UK businesses toward freelancers; this could be borne of necessity or the realization that workforce flexibility is worth paying a premium for, but either way, it’s great news for contractors.
5: The bottom line
- Any way you look at it, Brexit will hold some sort of consequences for freelancers in the UK. Their numbers have been on the rise for quite some time now and show no signs of slowing down: it seems certain that the Brexit freelance revolution has only just begun.
- That’s great news for the millions of freelancers already in the market and the millions more that will join them in the coming months – and a clear sign that power is shifting inexorably back to the labour.
★ For more tips and advice about freelancing, also check out our freelancer’s survival guide, the post that explains why freelancing platforms are crap, the one that says it’s not true and that Upwork is great, and also our tips on how to survive as a freelance translator
★ And if you’ve had enough of the UK, you may also work and travel the world instead