UK’s gig economy workforce has doubled since 2016, TUC and FEPS-backed research shows

The number of people doing gig economy work has doubled in the last three years, according to new TUC-supported research.

The survey – carried out by the University of Hertfordshire with fieldwork and data collection by Ipsos MORI – shows that nearly one in 10 (9.6 per cent) working-age adults surveyed now work via gig economy platforms at least once a week, compared to around one in 20 (4.7 per cent) in 2016. The majority of gig workers don’t do this kind of work full time. Rather “platform work” is used to supplement other forms of income, reflecting that UK workers are increasingly likely to patch together a living from multiple different sources.

The term “platform work” covers a wide range of jobs that are found via a website or app – like Uber, Handy, Deliveroo or Upwork – and accessed using a laptop, smartphone or other internet-connected device. Tasks include taxi driving, deliveries, office work, design, software development, cleaning and household repairs.

The survey also reveals that:

Younger workers are by far the most likely to work in the gig economy. Nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) of intensive (at least once a week) platform workers are aged between 16 and 34. One in seven (15.3 per cent) of the working age population surveyed – equivalent to nearly 7.5 million people – have undertaken platform work at some point. Six in 10 respondents report buying the services of a platform worker at some point. A fifth (21per cent) of UK workers surveyed are notified digitally if work is waiting for them and a quarter (24.6 per cent) use apps or websites to record the work they’ve done. Close to half of both groups were not platform workers, suggesting that gig economy practices are spreading to the wider economy.

These findings align with surveys carried out in other European countries, which show striking levels of platform work. Across Europe, the number of platform workers appears to be especially high in countries with high levels of informal work and low average earnings.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said,

The explosion of the gig economy shows that working people are battling to make ends meet. Huge numbers are being forced to take on casual and insecure platform work – often on top of other jobs. But as we’ve seen with Uber, too often these workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.

The world of work is changing fast and working people don’t have the protection they need. Government must get wages rising to make sure everyone has a secure job that pays the bills. And everyone working for an employer must get basic rights like the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, said,

In a period when wages have been stagnant, people are turning to the internet to top up their earnings. We see the Uber drivers and food delivery workers on our streets every day. But they’re only a small proportion of gig workers. They’re outnumbered by an invisible army of people working remotely on their computers or smartphones or providing services in other people’s homes.

These results underline how important it is to tackle low pay and precariousness. But they also suggest that we need a new deal to provide basic rights for all workers in the digital age

Justin Nogarede, Digital Policy Adviser at FEPS, said,

Our research shows high levels of platform work across Europe. The latest survey results from the UK confirm this and indicate that platform work is gaining in importance.

It’s high time to enact policies to ensure platform workers have access to social protection. We should break the link – often portrayed as inevitable – between platform work and precariousness.

Julian Cox, Head of Employment at iLaw, said,

It is incredible to think that in such a short time the number of workers in the gig economy has doubled. The sector offers excellent flexibility to self-employed workers, but it is not without faults.

Unfortunately, in many ways, the UK’s employment laws haven’t kept up with this change, which has led to allegations from some employees that the model is being misused by employers – many of whom have believed they have been operating within the boundaries of the current law.

Thankfully the Government’s Good work Plan looks due to launch next year, and while it doesn’t offer the levels of protection for employees that some workers and organisations had hoped for, it does provide a degree of balance to the current power dynamic and should help to clarify the employment status of individuals working within the gig economy.







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