Social Enterprise in the UK: Models and trajectories

Mike Aiken*, Roger Spear, Fergus Lyon, Simon Teasdale, Richard Hazenberg, Mike Bull, Anna Kopec-Massey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


There is a growing interest in the social-enterprise (SE) arena in the United Kingdom but this term encompasses a highly diverse community of organisations. In the Anglo-Saxon context, these organisations have developed in different policy or business fields, with distinctive legal or governance models. They may also originate from very different historical periods. For example, some may be recent organisations set up with a specific SE focus and, in certain cases, with a strong business orientation – alternatively, there are organisations with deep roots in charitable or cooperative entities founded in previous centuries, and these origins continue to influence their aspirations and organisational models. Overall, the wide degree of variety and hybridity within the field has created difficulties in defining or counting UK social enterprises. In the last 20 years, policy makers have moved from a position of relative neglect of social enterprises towards taking a strong interest in their development. Hence, there have been new or amended legal identities, encouragement for these organisations to acquire physical assets or engage in the delivery of public sector services, and an endorsement at policy and practice level of the importance of these entrepreneurial organisations. It is also worth mentioning that social enterprises are more common in certain arenas of the economy (particularly in the field of human services) and less common in others (such as high-tech manufacturing), although there are exceptions. It is also important to indicate the nature of devolved powers to the constituent countries within the UK over the last 20 years. This has led to some divergent policies towards social enterprises being pursued in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For simplicity, the discussion here mainly refers to the English situation, unless stated otherwise.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Enterprise in Western Europe
Subtitle of host publicationTheory, Models and Practice
EditorsJ Defourny, M Nyssens
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780429055140, 0-429-05514-5
ISBN (Print)9780367151188
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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