Size of UK’s gig economy doubles in three years

New research suggests one in 10 adults engaged in gig economy work in 2019, with employers urged to engage their temporary staff 

The number of people taking part in gig economy work has doubled in the last three years, with young people the most likely to be working this way, according to new research.

Research by the University of Hertfordshire showed that 10 per cent of working-age adults worked though gig economy platforms such as Uber, Deliveroo or Upwork at least once a week in 2019. This compared to just 5 per cent in 2016. 

It also found one in seven (15 per cent) respondents said they had undertaken gig economy work at some point. This would be equivalent to nearly 7.5 million people if extrapolated across the economy. 

The study, in conjunction with Ipsos MORI, interviewed 2,235 individuals in April 2019.

The researchers said the majority of gig workers did not perform this kind of work full-time but used apps to find temporary work to supplement other forms of income. Nearly half (48 per cent) said they undertook gig economy jobs on top of full-time work, with 12 per cent also working part-time. Only one in 10 (11 per cent) identified themselves as self-employed.

The TUC, which funded the research, said the results suggested that British workers were increasingly likely to use multiple types of work to boost their income. Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said the “explosion” of the gig economy showed that working people were “battling to make ends meet”. 

“The world of work is changing fast, and working people don’t have the protection they need,” O’Grady said. “Huge numbers are being forced to take on casual and insecure platform work – often on top of other jobs. But as we’ve seen with Uber, too often these workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.”

The TUC also said the survey showed it was time for all workers to receive basic rights such as the minimum wage and holiday. 

The research found young workers were the most likely to work in the gig economy, with 60 per cent of intensive gig economy work – classed as taking part at least once a week – being carried out by those aged between 16 and 34. 

Becci Newton, deputy director of public policy research at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), said it was important to know how many workers were engaged in the gig economy because of its flexibility and how many viewed it as their only access to work. For many, she said, it was a positive choice that worked around their personal commitments.

Employers should also consider upskilling and developing their temporary workforce to cope with future changes in their businesses, she said. This would not only make jobs more interesting, but the business would also enjoy increased productivity and worker engagement. 

The gig economy – which includes work sourced via platforms, as well as other forms of temporary labour – has previously been estimated by the Office for National Statistics to involve 4 per cent of the UK population.

At the end of last year, the government said it was introducing measures to give better protection to workers on zero hours contracts, agency employees or gig economy workers. 

The legislation means staff must be informed of their rights from their first day of work, including eligibility for paid and sick leave. Workers must also be given the right to request predictable hours.