The top 5 UK cities for freelancers and self-employed.

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With over 4.8million people now working for themselves in the UK, freelancing, contracting and self-employment continues to grow across each city, town and region of Britain. As independent working ingrains itself further into society, and increasingly becomes the new way of working up and down the UK, the debate surrounding which city is best suited for the self-employed inevitably intensifies.

Do typically higher earnings in London counter-balance the cost of living in the capital? Does better quality of live in Manchester for example, make up for potentially lower day-rates? And does living on the coast and working fewer hours make for happier freelancers?

Recent research into 5,010 UK self-employed workers carried out by Intuit Quickbooks has revealed all. After asking independent workers about number of hours worked, financial status, life satisfaction, holiday sacrificed, loans taken out to cover expenses and of course, average income, the top five cities in the UK to be self-employed have finally been announced. 

5. Sheffield

Earning on average £24,791 through 27 hours of work per week, 85% of self-employed people in Sheffield reported their life satisfaction as the same or better in comparison to a salaried worker. 70% also believe their financial status is the same or better than employees.


4. Brighton

Independent workers living in the notoriously creative city of Brighton on average earn £35,589 each year, through working 27 hours weekly. 81% of freelancers and self-employed people surveyed reported the same or better life satisfaction since going solo, while 65% enjoy the same or an improved income than employees.


3. Edinburgh

People working for themselves in the Scottish capital typically earn £35,285 each year, and work on average, 28 hours per week. 84% say their life satisfaction is the same of better than being a salaried worker, while 70% believe their financial situation is better or at least equal to that of an employee.


2. London

 Unsurprisingly, London ranks high in the top UK cities for the self-employed. On average, self-employed Londoners earn £35,779, and work 27 hours per week. 84% report the same or better life satisfaction in comparison to employees, while 66% claim their financial status is the same or better than that of an employee. 


1. Southampton.

The south-coast city of Southampton is, according to this study, Southampton. With higher than average earnings of £39,024 each year, through 26 hours of work a week, 83% of self-employed people say their life satisfaction is the same or better than those working employed. 71% report the same or improved finances compared to life as an employee.

The stand-out benefits for freelancers, contractors and self-employed people in Southampton were; control over their own schedule (79%), greater flexibility to work on their own terms (69%), and being their own boss (68%).


Suneeta Johal, IPSE’s Head of Research, Education and Training, explained that the research suggests freelancing and contracting is thriving across the entire UK.

“This interesting and invaluable study shows that right across the UK – from Edinburgh to Southampton – it’s possible to enjoy a high quality of life as a freelancer. Not only that, this study also confirms what our own research has suggested: that wherever they are in the UK, freelancers and the self-employed can enjoy a level of financial security and life satisfaction that is at least as high as – and in many cases higher than – salaried employees.” 

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Freelancers enjoy ‘enough holiday’, but significantly less than employees.

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The myth that freelancers and contractors enjoy far more time off than employees seems to be just that; a myth.

New research from Qdos Contractor has highlighted that at least 68% of UK freelancers and contractors take less than 22 days holiday per year, far less than the 28 days a full-time employee is given on average.

The research, according to Qdos Contractor CEO Seb Maley “dispels any myth that freelancers and contractors do not work as often or as hard as full-time employees, while also highlighting that independent workers are, more often than not, available when businesses need them most.”

On the face of it, that independent workers do not enjoy the same amount of time off as employees is a concern. The majority of freelancers and contractors do not see it this way however. Despite taking less leave than employees, 54% of the 715 freelancers surveyed are quite satisfied that they enjoy ‘enough holiday’, reinforcing the long-held theory that those in business on their own by and large enjoy a fairly healthy worklife balance.


That said, this doesn’t make up for the fact that 42% of freelancers take less than 15 days holiday per year, almost half the amount a full-time UK employee is given.

“Many freelancers understandably find taking time off difficult. From feeling the need to work when projects are available, to problems switching off, having the financial security and confidence to enjoy a well-earned rest is one of the most difficult aspects of self-employment,” Maley explained.

This hasn’t been helped by the Government’s recent moves to readdress the tax system, as Maley went onto explain:

“Unlike employees, freelancers and contractors are not entitled to paid annual leave, making it all the more important that the Government helps the self-employed maximise their earnings when working. Recent changes to IR35 and the UK tax system have somewhat reduced the financial benefits of working independently however, no doubt contributing to the 30% of freelancers who simply feel as though they cannot afford time off.”


Of the 46% of independent workers concerned they do not take enough holiday annually, 30% as mentioned by Maley stated they cannot afford the time off. More positively, 30% did state they actively choose to work and earn instead, while 20% deem themselves too busy to take holiday, signalling that in general contractors are in-demand, engaged in contracts and earning. However, 15% fear of losing a contract by taking a holiday, while 5% put lack of holiday down to factors such as difficulty switching off and that they are relatively new to freelancing.  

That marginally, those working for themselves are happy with the amount of holiday they enjoy should be welcomed. But it’s clear from this research that more could be done by the powers that be to help those working independently maximise their earnings when working to enable an even greater worklife balance.

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UK self-employment on the rise, as employment hits record heights.

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The latest ONS Labour Market Statistics, which explored trends from April to June of this year, have revealed the highest level of UK employment since 1971 and continued growth in self-employment which takes the total number of people working for themselves in the UK to a staggering 4.81million.

This represents a 23,000 growth in self-employment compared to the same period last year. Furthermore, this is complemented by a 20,000 drop in the number of people working on zero-hour contracts in the UK – a figure which has a habit of skewing self-employment figures.

The continued rise in self-employment offers further indication that freelancing, contracting and self-employment is indeed the new and future way of working, regardless of ongoing political uncertainty, recent policy changes and challenges on the horizon.


Employment as whole in the UK currently sits at a record-high of 75.1%, with some 338,000 people entering employment in the past 12 months, 247,000 of whom have started work since the turn of the year.

This now means that over 32million people work in the UK in some capacity. To reach record-breaking employment figures in times of political and business uncertainty shows economic stability in testing times, IPSE’s Senior Policy Adviser, Jonathan Lima-Matthews explained.

“The UK Labour Market continues to show its strength and has maintained its leading position in Europe. Despite fears of complete economic collapse after the EU referendum, the UK economy still seems to be going strong for now.”

The latest figures, including the widely-regarded welcome drop in the number of zero-hours contracts, could well see an increase in demand for freelancers and contractors, Lima-Matthews went on to say.

“And although the significant drop in the number of people employed on zero-hours contracts is clearly positive, it also means the UK economy will now rely more than ever on the flexibility provided by the self-employed.

“It’s very encouraging, therefore, that today’s figures also show that an additional 23,000 self-employed people entered the workforce between April and June compared to the same period last year.”


Going forward, and regardless of uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the UK employment as a whole continue to break records.

“Now, as inflation starts to cool, we can reasonably expect to see our workforce growing in size, flexibility and prosperity in the months and years to come,” Lima-Matthews stated.

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