The value of the social enterprise sector has been "significantly underestimated" according to a new report.
The research, conducted by Social Enterprise UK and supported by the Co-op Group and Nationwide Building Society, has found that the combined contribution of social enterprise to the UK economy is £60bn - far more than the £24bn that had been previously estimated by the Government and Social Enterprise UK.
The report defines the sector as organisations with an enshrined primary social or environmental mission and which principally direct surpluses towards that mission.
For the first time, the research has considered the impact of 5,000 larger social enterprises, as well as small and medium-sized social enterprises. Altogether, there are around 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £60bn to the economy and employing two million people.
In total, social enterprises are worth around 3% of UK GDP - three times larger than the agricultural sector - and accounting for 5% of all UK employment.
The report reveals that more social enterprises are growing than traditional firms - 47% of social enterprises grew their turnover in the past 12 months, compared to 34% of all UK businesses. Social enterprises are also more innovative than other firms - 50% introduced a new product or service compared with 33% of SMEs.
The authors of the report are calling on the Government to back the growth of the social enterprise sector through a package of measures, including reform of the tax system to incentivise businesses that have a social as well as an economic impact on society.
Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of Social Enterprise UK, said: "We have 100,000 social enterprises which are working to transform our society whilst boosting the UK's competitiveness. Their £60 billion contribution to the UK is too big to ignore and is just the start of something that the Government must get behind. If it doesn't, there is a real risk that the UK will get left behind as other countries recognise social enterprise as the future of business."
Steve Murrells, ceo of the Co-op Group, said: "People-centred businesses in the UK are already flourishing and making a huge contribution to the UK economy … Some simple Government initiatives around regulation and tax could help to kick-start an expansion of the social enterprise sector and encourage more people-focused decision-making in business."