Empowering the Freelance Economy

“Policymakers have been ignoring freelancers for far too long”: third of Europe’s platform freelancers face financial crisis, debilitating new regulations

Glen Hodgson, founder of the think tank Free Trade Europa, says policymakers need to engage with freelancers to ensure any new regulations are fit for purpose
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Third Of Freelancers Struggling To Pay Their Bills Amidst Cost-Of-Living Crisis, Study Finds

It would seem UK freelancers are not the only ones in Europe not being heard by workforce policymakers. With proposed workforce regulations threatening to make things even harder for gig workers, campaigners are urging the EU to listen to the “voice of freelancers”. 

A survey of 2,500 freelancers across Europe has found that 33% of platform workers are struggling to pay their bills, but it’s still a “lifestyle choice” for the vast majority. 

Results from the new study “The Voice of Freelancers” were launched by the Future of Work Institute, the #WorkAnywhere Campaign and policy think tank Free Trade Europa.

Key findings include: 

  • The cost of living crisis is hitting freelancers hard 
    • 33.3% of freelancers do not have enough money to pay their bills 
  • And, half of gig workers do not get sufficient work every month via platforms 
    • 49.6% of platform workers reported this 
  • However, the vast majority of freelancers in the study are seeking a better lifestyle through gig work
    • Gig work is a lifestyle choice for 77.5% of study respondents 
  • “Flexibility” is seen as the greatest benefit associated with the lifestyle
    • 62% of freelancers said that’s what they enjoyed most about gig work 
    • The next most common benefit, “Interesting/varied work”, was selected by only 17.8% of freelancers 
  • And, freelance work is a positive experience for the overwhelming majority 
    • 91.% of freelancers enjoy gig work 
  • There is a massive gender disparity in gig work
    • 71.3% of freelancers are men 

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The news comes as a debate in the European Parliament over new workforce regulations brews. While aiming to ensure that rights, conditions and social protection of gig workers are adequate, the proposed laws risk harming freelancers by reducing flexibility and limiting opportunity.

The campaigners behind the “Voice of Freelancers” study are urging policymakers to consider these findings before they vote on the legislation at the end of October.

So far, no gig workers have been consulted in drafting the proposed legislation. That has to change, campaigners argue, before millions of freelancers are negatively impacted by the misguided policies. 

Glen Hodgson, Founder and CEO of think tank Free Trade Europa, says policymakers need to start taking the economic contribution of freelancers more seriously.

“Policymakers have been ignoring freelancers for too long, and this needs to change given the rapid growth of the sector. An increasing percentage of the workforce are looking for more flexibility and choice outside the confines of the old 9 to 5 employment model.  Legal, technology and policy frameworks need to adapt to meet the reality of the future of work”.

Glen Hodgson, Founder and CEO of think tank Free Trade Europa

Ben Marks, Founder & Executive Director of the #WorkAnywhere Campaign says in these difficult times, it’s essential that new regulations protect and empower all workers.

“To make life even harder for platform workers during this cost-of-living crisis could have a horrendous impact on wellbeing, families and local economies,” says Marks. 

Just how big is Europe’s freelancer community and why is it growing?

7 out of 10 workers in the Nordics are thinking about freelancing in the future. Photo by Antoni Shkraba via Pexels

According to the European Commission, today over 28 million people in the EU work through digital labour platforms. In 2025, their number is expected to reach 43 million people.

The report said: “This exponential growth, at the European and global level is fueled by a changing labour market and the demand for more flexibility and choice from individuals and companies alike.”

A Kantar/Sifo study conducted in 2021 found that 7 out of 10 workers in the Nordics were thinking about freelancing in the future. Importantly, gig and platform work is often a sideline and complementary for 70% of freelancers and this was highlighted in a Copenhagen Economics study from 2021.

The reason behind this is often that individuals want to test new sectors and professions before they start their own business, while others look for ways to follow more than one passion while making money from them.

While policymakers understandably want to protect vulnerable workers from insecure contracts and stressful working conditions, they must also consider this broader reality, which so far has been largely ignored.

“The Voice of Freelancers” report

Some more interesting highlights that came out of the study: 

  • Freelance work is not just a young person’s game
    • 25.6% of freelancers in the study are aged between 35-44 
    • 22.5 of freelancers in the study are aged between 45-54 
  • Freelance work positively contributes to professional development 
    • 85% of freelancers agreed or strongly agreed that gig work helps them develop experience and gain new skills.

To read the fully study visit: https://freetradeeuropa.eu/future-of-work-study-2022

Why aren’t policymakers taking freelancer input into account when it comes to regulation? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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