Research by the University of Hertfordshire, BritainThinks and the TUC has found that the number of people working in the ‘gig’ economy has nearly tripled over the last five years, reaching 4.4 million across England and Wales.
Nearly a quarter (22.6%) of workers have taken ‘gig’ jobs through a platform (like a website or app) at least once before, while the proprotion of workforce taking these jobs at least once per week has “spiralled” from 5.8% in 2016, to 11.8% in 2019, to 14.7% in 2021.
Gig work has also started to infect new sectors, the study found, stretching beyond the usual culprits of taxi driving (such as through Uber) and couriering (such as through Deliveroo), to office work, software development, cleaning, office work and household repairs.
The increase in the number of workers taking on jobs through platforms has increased across all industries, but is particularly notable in delivery and driving roles, where ‘gig’ work has quadrupled since 2016 (from 1.9% taking platform jobs once a week, to 8.9%).
In household services, ‘gig’ work has more than doubled (from 3.2% to 7.9%), in errand running it has almost tripled (from 2.3% to 6.2%), and in online digital tasks ‘gig’ work is over twice as prevelant as it was five years ago (from 4.9% to 11.9%).
Most ‘gig’ workers take these jobs outside of more traditional roles in order to make ends meet when stuck in a low-paid profession, sometimes leading to extremely long working days. With the gig economy already renowned for breaching employment rights and exploitative conditions, this trend may also be making more people vulnerable to unfair work.
The TUC called for a universal employment status to cover everyone in work, thereby ensuring that every person in employment has access to the same rights. IER Chair, Lord John Hendy QC, recently legislated to make this change in the House of Lords through his Status of Workers Bill, which is now in its Commitee Stage.
It also called for modern trade union recognition laws that allow unions to access the workplace, including in digital spaces.
“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work. But millions of working people are having to rely on casual and insecure gig economy work to make ends meet – often on top of other jobs,” TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said.
“Gig economy platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation. Too often gig workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.”
Professor Neil Spencer, Head of the Statistical Services Consulting Unit at the University of Hertfordshire, which conducted the research, warned that “the gig economy is a substantial part of the UK’s workforce and I expect it to continue to grow”.
“Those classified as self-employed also have less rights than employees. It is vital that pay and conditions for gig workers are improved to protect those who rely on this work as a source of income,” he added.
Co-author Ursula Huws, Director of Analytica Social and Economic Research, added: “The growth of platform work has to be seen in the context of growing time poverty in the British workforce. People are having to take on extra work to make ends meet, but that leaves them with little time for their household and care responsibilities, forcing them to turn to platforms to supply these needs.”