People who are not economically active should be helped into the gig economy claims think tank

Following last week’s publication of the Taylor Review into modern working practices, a new study from public sector think tank Reform makes recommendations for how government should help people into the gig economy, with a focus on those who are often economically inactive or restricted in the opportunities they have. In the report, Gainful Gigging, older and disabled people are explored as potential winners from recent growth in flexible working. Both groups are significantly less likely than average to be economically active, and many face significant work barriers. Around half of all 50-64 year olds manage at least one long-term health condition. Of the 3 million in this age group that are economically inactive, around 12 per cent spend over 20 hours per week looking after a sick, disabled or elderly person. Greater work flexibility could help them to enter the labour market, according to the report’s authors. In a survey of disability benefit claimants, many indicated that “flexible work, working from home [and] working less than 16 hours per week” would help them sustain employment. A review of the Work Capability Assessment for sickness benefits also found half of those deemed ‘fit for work’ require flexible work hours.

Writing about the report, author Ben Dobson said: “Whilst some areas of the gig economy may not suit these jobseekers, platforms are emerging in a wide range of sectors. SuperCarers and HomeTouch, for example, offer freelance domiciliary care services. Upwork provides remotely-deliverable services, such as website design and blog writing. Since 2015, at least 10 similar apps have emerged for matching schools and supply teachers. Digital exclusion is also rapidly declining as a barrier for older and disabled people. The estimated proportion of over 55 year olds who had not used the internet in the last three months fell from 80 per cent in 2002 to around 40 per cent a decade later. It is estimated this will fall below 15 per cent by 2030. Between 2013-14, the proportion of disabled people who had used the internet rose by nearly 3 percentage points to just under 70 per cent, and in 2016, nearly 50 per cent had used a mobile phone to access the internet within the last three months.

“Appropriate work in the gig economy could therefore have a profound impact on the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of nearly 4 million people who are out of work because of caring responsibilities or ill health. However, current support programmes are poorly placed to help jobseekers into the gig economy. For example, the specialist programme for disabled people, Work Choice, requires participants to look for at least 16 hours of work per week. Similarly, those on the Work Programme must try to earn enough to lift them off out-of-work benefits entirely. For many participants, these requirements are important for delivering success. But for those who need greater flexibility, they render employment support inaccessible.”