FREELANCERS are enjoying high levels of pay and flexibility while exploiting cutting-edge technology and innovation, a new study has discovered.

Contrary to perceptions that the economic recovery is an illusion created by casual work, freelancers are in fact an “essential” element of the economic value of the creative cluster in the city.

Overall freelancing is a “positive phenomenon ”, not a second-best to employment – yet some laws penalise self-employment.

The findings are contained in new study unveiled last night into Brighton and Hove’s thriving but sometimes hidden workforce within the creative, digital and IT sectors (CDIT).

Brighton Fuse 2 Project: The Role of Freelancers in the Brighton’s Creative Digital IT Cluster follows from last year’s influential Brighton Fuse report, which found a new category of ‘superfused’ businesses combining creative and design skills, technological expertise, and double-digit growth and employment.

The Fuse 2 project, led by Dr Roberto Camerani, of the University of Sussex’s science and policy research unit, investigates the contribution, of the freelance community to the creative sector to address unresolved issues about self-employed work, such as economic impact, business models, organisation, and wellbeing.

The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, with the University of Brighton and Wired Sussex also partners, is based on a sample of 300 freelances, 30 interviews and two focus groups.

The executive summary concluded: “We argue that this mode of work is a positive phenomenon in the CDIT sectors, not a second best to employment as is sometimes claimed, and we observe that there are aspects of law and policy that currently penalise freelancing.”

Freelancers display “unusually high levels of innovation” and enjoy the freedom to expand business ideas and achieve flexibility and autonomy in their lives.

Many invest time in personal product ideas, research and development, passion-projects, or artistic or philanthropic ideas.

Only a small minority freelance through necessity, although many do so to earn higher pay.

Yet there were also contradictions and puzzles arising from the research. The report authors wrote: “We find for example that freelancers are still more superfused than the firms in the cluster, they similarly achieve more income with greater levels of fusion, and yet levels of growth do not match those of the superfused firms - on the contrary superfused freelancers grow less.”

Relationships with place and networks were mixed, with individuals attracted to Brighton for its creative reputation and amenities - yet overwhelmingly working at home.

Networks were valued for ideas, but few engage in networking meet-ups regularly, with more than half not identifying with the creative or digital communities.

The report added: “The dynamics of clustering for freelancers appear more complex than is sometimes assumed in theories of creativity and place, based on this evidence.”