Census Reveals Impact of Scots Social Enterprises

Posted: 02 October 2015, in Sector News

As public awareness of social enterprise increases, so do the questions about what it actually contributes to Scotland’s economy and society. What’s been missing, up until now, are hard statistics about social enterprise and the kind of robust economic data that demonstrates the practical impact of Scotland’s social enterprise businesses. We’ve now solved this issue with the launch of the results of Social Enterprise in Scotland: Census 2015.

For those who don’t yet know, social enterprises are businesses that are set up to deliver a specific social and/or environmental mission (not simply a private business behaving ethically). This could mean employing homeless people, providing social housing, recycling waste or something else that profits society. They aim to make money like any other business, but invest 100% of it in their social purpose. Well-known examples include The Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate, the Homeless World Cup, Kibble Education and Care, Glasgow Housing Association, the Eden Project and many others.

The powerful impact of our social enterprise businesses has now been revealed for the very first time, with the welcome publication of these Census results. The headline results show us that there are over 5,000 social enterprises in Scotland, with over 200 new social enterprises being formed each year. The Highlands and Islands has 22% of all social enterprises, with Edinburgh and Glasgow accounting for 26%, Scotland-wide employing over 112,000 people.

Scotland’s social enterprises have £1.15bn in combined traded income and employ around the same number as Scotland’s food and drink sector, more than the energy or creative industries sectors and well over half the numbers working in our financial sector. Some 75% of social enterprises employ more than half their workforce locally too.

As you might imagine the size, growth and development of credit unions and housing associations, in particular, underpins the social enterprise community with solid foundations. These are two of the giants of social enterprise.

Social enterprises are also leading the way in terms of progressive business practices. An impressive 60% of social enterprises have a woman as their most senior employee, with 68% of social enterprises paying at least the authentic Living Wage (from the Living Wage Foundation). This compares to an apparent 7% figure for FTSE 100 companies led by women and also poses a challenge for more private sector employers to pay the recognised Living Wage pay rates.

The research confirms Scotland as a world-leading nation in nurturing social enterprise and recognises social enterprise as a more inclusive way of doing business. We have a long-term aim and a huge challenge but our vision is that all businesses will eventually become social enterprises of one form or another. This landmark project will help greatly towards making that vision a reality.


  1. The Social Enterprise Census 2015 was funded by: Big Lottery Fund, Co-operative Development Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Nesta, Social Investment Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and The Scottish Government and supported, endorsed and guided by all key national organisations working in Scotland’s social enterprise community. View the headline stats infographic and read the full report.