CIPD research helps shape the debate around the gig economy

Last week, the CIPD launched new research on the gig economy, shining a light on the growth of this new type of casual work and finding out what people really think about it

New research from the CIPD tells the story of those people working inside the ‘gig economy’. These are the ever-growing number of people – 1.3million, according to the report – who are using their skills and knowledge via the internet and apps in order to find work.

Much publicised court cases involving Uber and Deliveroo have highlighted the rising trend of people working more flexibly and in ways that suit their needs, and the CIPD’s new research has received significant attention from various outlets including the BBC, The Guardian and CityAM.

Bringing this level of attention to key CIPD research helps the Institute to influence policy-makers and stakeholders, ensuring that the research is not simply limited to reading material, but delivers practical change that can benefit the world of work.

For example, To gig or not to gig? Stories from the modern economy will dramatically help the case when feeding into the Taylor Review, which is designed to look at the future of a modern working economy, including the development of different styles of working. Matthew Taylor himself heard Peter Cheese, CIPD CEO, on Radio Four last Friday, and in response tweeted positively about the CIPD’s research.

By placing the Institute at the heart of ongoing conversations around work issues, the CIPD can better represent its members and deliver on its purpose to champion better work and working lives directly to the people who shape and make decisions.

As for the research itself, many outlets have focussed on the negative aspects of the trade, but it is worth noting that the report paints a relatively mixed picture, highlighting the complexity of the issue.

Gig workers are generally satisfied with their jobs, and value the flexibility that the role gives them. Crucially, just 14% of respondents said they worked in the gig economy because they couldn’t find more traditional employment, suggesting that the rhetoric around gig work being a last resort may be overblown. The most common reason, cited by 32% of those surveyed, for using this type of work was simply a desire to boost income.

In terms of job satisfaction, gig economy workers are roughly as satisfied with their work as people in traditional employment, despite the fact that the pay is low, averaging between £6 and £7.70 an hour for survey respondents. Given that 75% of gig workers also say it is not their main job, a picture begins to emerge of a person working elsewhere who wants to boost their income, or save for a specific goal such as a holiday or a new car.

The report did expose some key issues with this style of work, however. The survey and interviews revealed a concerning lack of knowledge about what rights and benefits workers were entitled to, as well as demonstrating that many did not know where they would go for help if they were being exploited.

Indeed, some workers said that they faced the worst of both worlds. They operate in a situation where organisations exercise a relatively strict level of control over them, but they are not able to claim many of the employment benefits that would normally come with that employer/employee relationship, such as eligibility for sick pay and holiday pay.

This perhaps explains the call for the UK Government to do more to regulate the gig economy in order to give employees basic rights, such as the right to sick pay and the living wage, a move supported by 63% of gig economy workers.

In its summary of recommendations, the CIPD calls for greater clarity on the demarcation between employees, workers and the self-employed. This will help in terms of deciding how those different groups are taxed, the employment right they are entitled to, and which work benefits they may be eligible for.

For businesses, more guidance needs to be given on what constitutes ‘good work’ and what ‘responsible employment’ looks like. This puts the onus on businesses, including those in the gig economy, to deliver work that does not seek to exploit workers or deliver bad outcomes for them.

The report will be keenly read by those inside government currently wrestling with the issue of how to regulate an ever changing labour market, especially as it comes on the heels of the Government’s u-turn on changes to national insurance contributions.

Indeed, when Matthew Taylor was interviewed by Robert Peston on Peston on Sunday, the programme’s introduction drew on the CIPD’s statsistics to paint a picture of what the gig economy in the UK looks like.

By continuing to publish interesting, insightful research the CIPD can remain at the heart of conversations around work, to help shape it for the better in the future.

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