With more than a quarter of the UK workforce now self-employed, and new evidence showing this is set to grow this year, the rise of freelancing signals a fundamental shift in the nature of work.
Some, driven by the lure of freedom, are choosing to go self-employed; others are going freelance out of necessity. Changes to the labour market mean that zero hours contracts, part time work and 'portfolio' careers are becoming more and more the norm.
Our new report, Not Alone, looks at recent trends in self-employment, both here in the UK and across the world. What we are seeing is more and more freelancers coming together and forming co-operatives in order to create security for themselves. The co-ops are allowing people to work for themselves whilst sharing costs with others - whether that's the cost of marketing products, workspace or back office services.
There are countless examples of how co-ops benefit their freelance members.
Swindon Music Co-operative, for example, was formed in 1998 with the support from Musicians' Union when the local authority disbanded its music service for schools. 20 music teachers, no longer employed by the council, formed the co-op to market their services. The co-op now has 50 teachers in membership, providing lessons to more 1,400 pupils and 70 schools.
Helen Godfrey, a self-employed violin teacher, sums it up, saying "I joined when the music co-op was set up. I wanted to be self-employed, but with some security as to finding pupils on a regular basis - as well as being part of a group for training needs."
And Janet Hodgson, who chairs the business, reflects that "one of the reasons for the success of the music co-operative here in Swindon is that it is a very cost-effective way of delivering instrumental and vocal tuition."
Co-operative Wealth is a very different kind of business, made up of nine independent financial advisers. Having worked for a range of employers and as freelancers, they set up the co-op in order to market their services and cut costs on back office services.
Stuart Mann, one of the members of Co-operative Wealth, encapsulates the independence and collaboration of the co-operative approach. "I love being my own boss. You live and die by you own decisions and work ethic." But, he adds, in a co-operative "we are able to challenge each other and we all bring something to the party by way of knowledge or enthusiasm - or just support."
Co-ops like these are providing self-employed people with practical support and solidarity right across the UK - for care workers, taxi drivers, interpreters, cleaners, designers, IT consultants, plumbers ... you name it.
But this is just the start of what is possible.
Overseas we see the Freelancers Union in the USA providing its 280,000 members with advice and insurance, SMart in Belgium offering invoicing and payments for 60,000 freelancer members and new legislation in France allowing self-employed workers to access the sickness pay and benefits of conventional employees through co-operatives.
As freelancing grows in the UK, we need a more systematic approach to supporting them. We need trade unions and co-ops to work together to support self-employed workers and, importantly, we need representation and legislation for self-employed people in government.
With self-employment expected to outstrip public sectors employees by 2018, now is the time to start to help freelancers work together.
The report can be downloaded from www.uk.coop/notalone.