Self-employed? Join a co-op.

The new tax year is starting and will see record numbers of people over the next twelve months filing returns as self‑employed workers.

Our new report, Not Alone by Alex Bird, Pat Conaty and Philip Ross tracks current levels of self-employment and the ways in which co-ops can help freelancers meet shared needs.

4.6 million people are now self-employed – the highest numbers in the UK since record began – and the numbers are likely to rise further, not least because it is an option that appeals to many people. One in four people (27%) of employees in medium-sized firms in research for the report say they would rather be self-employed.

In response, freelancers are starting to club together to form co-ops where they are better placed acting together rather than operating alone.

An example is RICOL. The service for interpreters in London was shaken up when the Government in 2011 moved from a national register of public service interpreters to a contract for all of England and Wales from a single provider, won by Applied Language Solutions, owned by Capita. To deliver on the contract, the firm then offered court interpreters work at what was in effect between 25% and 40% of the established rate.

There was a mass refusal to sign up and a protest group was launched, Interpreters for Justice. Many new interpreters hired by ALS were poorly qualified. Severe delays and chaos in the courts were widely reported in the press.

With help from Co-operatives UK, RICOL was established in November 2012 as a London-based interpreters and translators co-operative. They are now generating new work and contracts with law firms, commercial companies, human rights organisations and media companies.

It is early days for co-ops like these in the UK, but there are inspiring examples from overseas to learn from, such as the Self Employed Women’s Association in India, a trade union and co-operative network giving voice and opportunity to 1.7 million members.

Self-employment means that you take on the risks and the opportunities that the economy affords you. By coming together in co-ops, freelancers can share the risks and pool the opportunities.

You are on your own, but not alone.


2 thoughts on “Self-employed? Join a co-op.

  1. Such an interesting area, full of potential for co-operatives. Very interesting.

    PS: Many years ago I pondered the feasibility of a co-operative of lawyers in Portugal. Not possible at the time; had to be a standard model.

  2. The Cooperativa Integral Catalana or CIC ( is in part a solution in the self-employment space, in response to the requirement under current Spanish law for self-employed workers to pay monthly social security fees of around €300. By being a member of the cooperative these charges don’t apply.

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