The People's Business


Figures published in ‘The People’s Business’ reveal a thriving social enterprise sector in the UK that is attracting a wave of entrepreneurs and out-performing mainstream business. Report supported by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.


“The data shows that there’s growing interest in social enterprise – it’s the sector where entrepreneurs are choosing to set up businesses. This fact speaks volumes about people’s motivations and a desire for change in the way that businesses behave and their contribution to society."

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK

We would like to thank the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of our founding sponsors, for their support of The People's Business report.



  • Close to a third of all social enterprises are three years old or younger, with three times the start-up proportion of traditional SMEs. 
  • Social enterprises are very heavily concentrated in the UK’s most deprived communities. 38% of all social enterprises work in the most deprived 20% of communities in the UK, compared to 12% of traditional SMEs.
  • Social enterprises are far more likely to be led by women than mainstream businesses. 38% of social enterprises have a female leader, compared with 19% of SMEs and 3% of FTSE 100 companies.
  • 91% of social enterprises have at least one woman on their leadership team. 49% of mainstream SMEs have all-male directors.
  • 11% of social enterprises export or licence abroad – and the newer start-up social enterprises are more likely to export than established social enterprises.
  • 56% of social enterprises developed a new product or service in the last 12 months compared to 43% of SMEs. New product or service development is often used as a proxy-indicator of business innovation.
  • 28% of social enterprise leadership teams have BAME directors. Only 11% of SMEs report having directors from a BAME background.
  • 63% of respondents expecting their turnover to increase in the next two to three years – compared to 57% two years ago. Only 37% of SMEs expect their turnover to grow.
  • 38% of social enterprises saw an increase in turnover compared with 29% of SMEs, in the last year. This means that proportionally, almost a third more social enterprises grew based on turnover last year than SMEs.
  • In 2011, 25% of social enterprises that worked mainly with the public sector cited procurement policy as a principal barrier to their sustainability. In 2013, that figure stands at 34%.
  • The most common (32%) main source of income for social enterprises is trade with the general public. Close to half of all social enterprises now trade with the private sector too.
  • The proportion of social enterprises that trade with the public sector is increasing – and attracting a higher proportion of social enterprise start-ups. Over half (52%) of social enterprises do some trade with the public sector – twice the proportion of SMEs (26%).
  • Twice as many social enterprises (48%) as SMEs sought finance in the past 12 months and 39% cited access to finance as the single largest barrier to their growth and sustainability – the most common barrier experienced. 
  • The median amount of finance sought by social enterprise was £58,000 – below the minimum thresholds of many specialist social investment vehicles.