How should government engage the public on the gig economy? - RSA

How should government engage the public on the gig economy?


  • Picture of Brhmie Balaram
    Brhmie Balaram
    Associate Director, Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing (family leave)
  • Sharing economy
  • Economic democracy
  • Future of Work

In its response to the Taylor Review, the Government announced it will be consulting the public on the employment status of gig workers. This is at least the sixth time in the space of three years that this question is being opened up to a form of consultation, so how can the Government now design the process differently to demonstrate that this will be a meaningful exercise?

Last week, the Government published its formal response to the Taylor Review. Its report affirmed a commitment to ‘good work’ as championed by the Review and indicated support for the majority of the Review’s recommendations. However, rather than settling the matter of employment status, the government set out its intention to consult the public on how it should be clarified.

If the government were to act on the Review’s proposed changes, it would be embarking on the most significant reform made to employment status in over 20 years. It thus may seem reasonable for the Government to first further examine whether the right conclusions were drawn. Yet, this is not the first report that has tried to guide government on issues of employment status, nor the only one that has invited input from the public. In 2015, both the Office for Tax Simplification and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) carried out reviews on employment status (although BEIS didn’t publish its report until 2017). In 2017, the Work and Pensions Committee addressed questions about status in their inquiry into self-employment and the gig economy, and then collaborated with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on yet another inquiry to produce a framework for modern employment. Each review welcomed evidence submissions and some (i.e. the OTS) also called for responses following publication.

As we appear to have had at least five forms of consultation on employment status, the government needs to clearly distinguish why this current consultation will be any different. Why should the public trust it to make meaningful change following this round of consultation? How will the Government weigh up the evidence from opposing stakeholders (i.e. platform businesses like Uber and Deliveroo vs. trade unions and workers)? How will it take into account recent rulings made by the courts on the employment status of gig workers, including on how to pay ‘workers’ the minimum wage they are owed?

This consultation could be a real opportunity for the government to engage the public differently and, in doing so, build greater legitimacy for policy change. Rather than merely calling for views on the impacts and implications of the proposals on employment status, the government could also set up a deliberative process, involving businesses, employers, trade unions, experts and individuals.

At present, it’s not clear whom the Government is hoping will respond to this consultation who hasn’t previously contributed and will now have something new to say on the matter. It would be more useful for government to convene key stakeholders and enter into an open and frank dialogue about the trade-offs of making the Review’s proposed changes, maintaining the status quo, or pursuing alternative options. It is through deliberation that complexities and controversies can be teased out, and tensions resolved; addressing these conflicts is how we’ll be able to free ourselves from the endless loop of consultations on employment status and finally make progress that will improve conditions for over a million gig workers.


For a primer on issues of employment status in the gig economy, read this blog.

To learn more about the related tax implications, check out this blog.

Or, read our report on the gig economy online: Good Gigs – A fairer future for the UK’s gig economy  


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