Record number of people turn to gig work to top up income

The number of people doing gig economy work has doubled in the last three years, according to  TUC and FEPS-supported research. The survey – carried out by the University of Hertfordshire with fieldwork and data collection by Ipsos MORI – suggests that nearly 1 in 10 (9.6 percent) working-age adults surveyed now work via gig economy platforms at least once a week, compared to around 1 in 20 (4.7 percent) in 2016.

The majority of gig workers don’t do this kind of work full time, the report’s authors claim. 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 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 claims that:

Younger workers are by far the most likely to work in the gig economy. Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of intensive (at least once a week) platform workers are aged between 16 and 34.

1 in 7 (15.3 percent) of the working age population surveyed – equivalent to nearly 7.5 million people – have undertaken platform work at some point.

6 in 10 respondents report buying the services of a platform worker at some point.

A fifth (21 percent) of UK workers surveyed are notified digitally if work is waiting for them and a quarter (24.6 percent) 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.

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”