Approaches to measuring the scale of the social enterprise sector in the UK

Working Paper  43

With growing interest in social enterprise in the UK, evidence on the scale of their activity is required to show their contribution to the economy.

Figures such as the 55,000 social enterprises from the Annual Small Business Survey (rising to 62,000 in 2009) have been quoted widely based on a single survey. In this paper, we show that different surveys have been based upon samples drawn from widely disparate populations. The Annual Small Business Survey is shown to be dominated by private enterprises (Companies Limited by Share, Partnerships and Sole Proprietors) while other surveys, such as the National Survey of Third Sector Organisations, have only looked at particular elements of civil society. By understanding the origins of each source of data, a better evidence base can be developed that draws on the different data sources.

While there is still on-going debate about the definitions of social enterprise, careful presentation of data sources can allow those using the data to be clearer about what they are including or excluding. We show how different definitions of social enterprise result in widely differing estimations of the population. Estimations of social enterprise activity may be more reliable as the definitions are more consistently applied. This working paper aims to present data and seeks feedback from the social enterprise community and researchers as part of improving the evidence base.

Research contacts
Fergus Lyon
Simon Teasdale
Rob Baldock