Researcher says rhetoric surrounding new ways of working is ‘too negative’

Government services have failed to keep pace with the modern working world and should focus on helping unemployed people into the gig economy, new research has suggested.

In its report, Gainful gigging, think tank Reform criticised the government for failing disadvantaged jobseekers, particularly those who are elderly or disabled, by being too rigid in its approach to helping people into work.

“The current debate around the gig economy is too negative,” said Ben Dobson, researcher at Reform and author of the report. “While there are teething problems for the government to address, it is equally important that they harness the opportunity it presents for people who can only work flexibly. This is crucial for the wellbeing of millions of jobseekers.”

However, research published in March by the CIPD revealed that most people in the gig economy were topping up another source of income, with only 25 per cent viewing gig work as their main source of earnings. Just 14 per cent said they had joined the gig economy because they were unable to find a full-time job.

Ian Brinkley, interim chief economist at the CIPD, said the Reform proposals were a good idea “in principle”, but added: “The caveat is to be realistic about what you can expect from the gig economy. It will work for some people but it’s unlikely to make a huge contribution to getting unemployment down.”

Brinkley also stressed whether somebody’s suitability for gig work needed to be considered on a case-by-case basis. “You really need to look at [jobseekers’] individual circumstances,” he said. “So if they’re very limited on what other work they can do, then maybe the gig economy is not a bad option for them.”

The Reform report comes a week after the Taylor review into modern working practices was published. That report argued that, although more protections should be put in place to prevent gig workers being taken advantage of, flexible working was generally beneficial for the UK economy.

A number of gig economy workers have already taken the companies they work for to tribunal in a bid to secure more rights. In October, a tribunal ruled that Uber’s drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed and, in January, a tribunal found that CitySprint cycle courier Margaret Dewhurst should be classified as a worker, entitling her to holiday pay and the national living wage.

Meanwhile, a study by PwC released earlier this month found that more people would be tempted to take up gig work if they were offered better rights and almost half (45 per cent) of the 2,000 adults surveyed were either already in gig-style work or would consider working this way.

Office for National Statistics figures released earlier this month revealed that the unemployment rate is just 4.5 per cent, down from 4.9 per cent the year before and the lowest it has been since 1975. Meanwhile, 15 per cent of all people in work are now self-employed.

The Department for Work and Pensions had not responded to People Management’s request for comment at the time of writing.

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