There are now an estimated 1.1 million people in Britain’s gig economy, which is nearly as many workers as in the National Health Service (NHS) England. Over the last five years, the trend of using online platforms to source small, sometimes on-demand, jobs has accelerated, and shows little sign of slowing down.
In the largest survey undertaken on Britain’s gig economy, the RSA found that young people (aged 16-30) are particularly attracted to the idea of gig work – one in four said they would consider some form of it in future. Given this enormous potential for growth of the gig economy, the RSA set out to envision how platforms can become a catalyst for fair, fulfilling work in the modern labour market.
How we as a society respond to the impact of gig work on the labour market is an early, and significant, test of how we will manage increasingly radical changes as a result of developments in technology, such as artificial intelligence and automation. The hope is that we can leverage technology for the benefit of workers.
The uncertainty over how gig workers will fare over time, however, is making people feel uneasy about whether they will still have a decent standard of living in the wake of ‘disruption’. With this in mind, an incoming government needs to grapple with the reality of what changes in work will mean for society, recognising that the bedrock of security for most people – nine-to-five employment – is gradually disappearing. Not only does traditional employment guarantee rights and protections in the labour market, but it is also an important source of public revenue, accounting for a greater share of taxes per capita than self-employment.
The RSA’s view is that government needs to be clearer about how technological innovation – in this case, platforms in the gig economy – can raise the quality and security of work over the long-term.
At the RSA, we advocate for government to adopt an approach of ‘shared regulation’, which will require government to work in a more collaborative way and appeal to a range of stakeholders to help establish key tenets and principles of good work in the gig economy. Beyond this, we recommend that the wider infrastructure of the gig economy should be developed, and sustainable business models encouraged, particularly while the sector is still nascent and malleable to change.