UK social enterprise survey by IFF 2005

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there are currently around 15,000 social enterprises in the UK registered as Companies Limited by Guarantee (88%) or Industrial & Provident Societies (12%). In terms of the overall business population3, this means that these social enterprises account for around 1.2 per cent of all enterprises in the UK. The turnover (income) of this part of the population of social enterprises is just under £18 billion approximately, just under one per cent (0.8%) of the turnover of all UK businesses which have employees. A small number of social enterprises have a very large turnover; almost 1 in 5 turned over more than £1 million per annum. However, the median turnover is £285,000. The vast majority of this turnover (82%) is from trading revenues, which account for £14.8 billion in total. Almost nine in ten (88%) of those surveyed generate 50 per cent or more of their income from trading.


Social enterprises registered as CLGs or IPS employ nearly ½ million people (475,000), of whom two-thirds are employed full-time. A further 300,000 people work for social enterprises on a volunteer basis, contributing an average of 2 hours each per week (a total of 580,000 hours volunteered per week). The typical social enterprise employs 10 people. Almost half (49%) employ fewer than 10 people, 38 per cent employ between 10 and 49, 11 per cent have 50-249 employees and 2 per cent employ more than 2505.

The most common way in which social enterprises registered as CLG and IPS derive their trading income is classified as “Health & Social Care” (33%) – mostly daycare, childcare, welfare / guidance but also accommodation services. Social enterprises also commonly derive their main income from “community or social services”6 (21%) and “real estate / renting7” activities (20%). Smaller proportions of social enterprises trade in the educational sphere (15%) and in wholesale / retail (3%).

Social enterprises trading in the “health and social services” field and in “education” were most likely to offer their services free to at least some of their “customers”, and were also most likely to receive payment from third parties.

Real estate covers renting, selling or developing ones own property / land or intermediating in these activities (i.e. as in an estate agent)

The simple average turnover for social enterprises with fewer than 250 employees was £900,000. This compares to approximately £880,000 amongst UK Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs).5 Among private sector businesses with employees at the start of 2003, 83.3% were micros (fewer than 10 staff), 13.9% were small (10-49 staff), 2.2% were medium (50-249 staff) and 0.5% were large (250+ staff).6 For example, membership organisations, cultural or artistic organisations and/or sporting activities

What social enterprises do to help Most social enterprises registered as CLG or IPS describe their mission in terms of helping people (95%), but 23 per cent (also) seek to help the “green” environment; for 5 per cent the “green” environment is their sole focus. Environmental activities centred mainly around recycling (42% of all social enterprises with green environmental goals), but also included improving urban environments (29%), conservation (23%) and raising environmental awareness (20%).

Social enterprises which aim to help the “green” environment are more likely to have a local focus, although one in five (20%) focus primarily on a wider area. Where social enterprises are looking to help people, this is mostly through the provision of goods and/or services, but almost 3 in 10 (28%) who aim to help people also aim to help by providing them with employment. The provision of employment opportunities to certain groups is the sole social activity of 9 per cent of social enterprises.

The main way in which people are helped is through training / education (20% of all social enterprises helping people). A wide range of other activities encompassed various forms of personal support (housing, childcare, etc.), professional support (business advice, employability training, etc.) and cultural or recreational opportunities (sports clubs, arts groups, etc.).

Beneficiaries of social enterprise activity

The key groups of people whom social enterprises registered as CLG or IPS exist to help are people with disabilities (19% of all social enterprises which help people), children or young people (17%), the elderly (15%) and people on low incomes (12%). A range of other groups benefit from social enterprises, although most social enterprises focus on a single core audience. A quarter (24%) of social enterprises exist to help the community within which they are located.

People with disabilities are relatively more likely to receive assistance in the form of employment opportunities. Enterprises helping younger people, the elderly and the homeless were the most likely to provide goods and services, and least likely to provide employment opportunities.

The location of social enterprises

The largest number of social enterprises registered as CLG or IPS is found in London – which accounts for almost a fifth of the total (22%), more than its share of all UK businesses (14%). Social enterprises are also over-represented in the South West (12% compared with 9% of all UK businesses). The vast majority of social enterprises are located in urban areas (89%). Social enterprises are likely to be situated in areas of high multiple deprivation; 29 per cent are located in the 20 per cent most deprived wards and a further 20 per cent in the 20 to 40 per cent most deprived wards. However, social enterprise activity is not restricted to areas of deprivation and half of those (49%) identified operate in areas that would not be considered deprived. In aggregate, social enterprises in deprived areas tend to receive a larger proportion of their income from “grants and donations”, although they are not necessarily more likely to benefit from this type of funding. They are less likely to have any volunteers on their staff, and volunteers form a lower proportion of the total workforce (30% in 20% most deprived wards vs. 43% outside these wards), but those volunteers that work within social enterprises in deprived areas tend to contribute more hours per week (4 vs. 2).