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Good Work

Balancing Flexibility and Fairness in the Gig Economy

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What is the experience of working in the Gig Economy?

In order to better understand the experience individuals are actually seeing in the Gig Economy, we worked with Uber to distribute a survey to its drivers. Where possible, we asked them exactly the same questions about their working conditions as we had in a separate nationally representative poll of the general public, allowing us to better compare and contrast their results. Drivers were assured their responses were completely anonymous.

Our survey work and driver interviews were all undertaken after Uber changed the status of all its drivers to workers.  As of 2021, Uber is currently the only major Gig Economy operator treating their employees as part of the formal worker classification: providing pension, holiday pay and guaranteed national living wage. That said, the data we found was relatively consistent with previous studies we have done on Uber drivers in the UK before the change,1 with Uber drivers in other countries,2 or that other independent studies have found.3

At the highest level, we found no evidence that drivers in the UK were systematically less satisfied with their work than the general public. On average, drivers gave a rating of 7.25 out of 10 for job satisfaction, compared to an average of 7.03 for the general public. One reason for this is that a particularly high proportion of drivers - relative to the public - gave job satisfaction the very highest rating, at 10.

Overall, how satisfied are you with your current job? Where 0 is ‘not at all satisfied’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied'

Another way to look at the quality of drivers’ working lives is to ask them about the actual experiences they normally have. Here too we saw good evidence that most drivers were generally satisfied:

How often, if at all, do you experience any of the following as part of your work?

Victoria, London

Before driving for Uber, Victoria was a bus driver for 10 years. While she enjoyed the work, her friend, who was already driving for Uber, convinced her that being able to work when she wanted would help her with other responsibilities. “The main thing is the flexibility,” says Victoria.  “You choose to log on, or log off whenever you want. If there's an emergency, I can just log off and go home and do our family stuff.  If I was working in the buses, I'd have to beg and borrow to swap job shifts.”

Victoria has recently launched her own property sourcing business which takes up a lot of her time, particularly as she is also studying for property qualifications.  In the future she hopes to balance running her business around driving morning shifts for Uber. Her work as a driver allows her to explore different parts of London, and to visit properties around the city between clients. “Every day is different. I get trips all over the place, and meet all different people. It's just less stress than to drive a bus. That's why I'm so grateful for Uber because it’s just like the perfect job.”

Another way to benchmark this is to compare the self-reported experiences of drivers against the self-reported experiences of the general public.

Looking at positive experiences first, we see that drivers are significantly more likely to report enjoying their work or learning something new, than the general public as a whole. Equally, they report having more positive experiences interacting with people outside of their organisation.  (They are less likely to report enjoying interactions with people inside their organisation - but then given the nature of the work, it is not surprising that drivers relatively rarely do this.)

How often, if at all, do you experience any of the following as part of your work?

Turning to negative experiences, we see little difference in the prevalence of anxiety or boredom. Drivers do report being a little more worried about the possibility of losing their job - perhaps a result of the direct feedback mechanism they receive from customer reviews after every trip.

How often, if at all, do you experience any of the following as part of your work?

As well as asking directly about their experiences, we also asked both drivers and the general public a standardised psychological questionnaire known as the job characteristics model. The job characteristics model is one of, if not the, single best academic predictors of job satisfaction.[1]

It is based around five factors:

  • How much autonomy do you have performing your work?
  • How much do you get to see a task through to its completion?
  • How much variety is there in types of skills you get to use?
  • Do you get any meaningful feedback from your work?
  • Do you think your work is making a positive difference?

Intuitively, driving for Uber seems to score well against these standards: it is highly autonomous, drivers take their passengers from the pick-up point to a final destination and then get both direct and indirect feedback on how well they have done.

Sure enough, we found that drivers scored higher or equal to the general public on the vast majority of the dimensions of the job characteristics model, with the only exception being skill variety. On average, drivers received a 14% better score on this model than the average worker in the general public.

The Importance of Flexibility

Why do drivers choose to work in the Gig Economy in the first place?

We asked both drivers and the general public to choose out of a list of the most important factors they look for when looking for new work.

For the most part, the rankings chosen by the two groups were relatively similar. Both put a good salary right at the top, valued work/life balance, job security and a pleasant working environment.

However, a few significant differences did jump out:

  • Drivers were nearly three times as likely (55%) to choose flexibility of hours as an important factor, compared to the general public (20%)
  • Drivers were more than twice as likely (26%) to choose the ability to choose where you work as an important factor, compared to the general public (11%)
  • Drivers were nearly twice as likely (21%) to choose independence and autonomy as an important factor, compared to the general public (12%)
When looking for work, what aspects of a job is most important to you? Please select up to five

Taken together, these results demonstrate the overwhelming importance of flexibility to drivers. Digging more into this topic , we asked both drivers and the general public how flexible they would describe their work as. Unsurprisingly, there was a huge difference: with more than three times as many drivers describing their work as very flexible (66%) as members of the general public (18%).

All in all, how flexible would you say your job is?

Even this, however, might be slightly understating the differences. One recurring theme through our research was that different people mean and value different things by the single word ‘flexibility.’ To one person, it is about being able to work remotely from home, another how they approach their tasks.

When we asked about more specific types of flexibility, it was clear drivers valued them all higher across the board - however, there were particularly big gaps when it came to the ability to choose where you work, or having the ability to earn multiple incomes from multiple employers or jobs.

How important or unimportant are the following flexibilites to you?

In fact the driver cohort rated the importance of all five of the flexibility questions between 94% and 68% whereas the general public cohort rated all questions under 75% importance with three around or below the 50% mark:

We also tested how flexible normal jobs were in reality. Most employers try to be somewhat flexible, and will accommodate a member of staff who has a one off need. However, very few have the complete flexibility over hours and other sources of income enjoyed by an Uber driver.

In your own words, what makes a good job for you? (Uber Drivers)

"Flexibility, easy to access support, good pay, honesty" Man, 34, London
"Working in a good environment being paid well without having to be stressed too much." Man, 44, London
"Being my own boss and choosing my own hrs that I can work and earn money in the other hand I can look after my kid, family" Man, 30, North West of England
"A job that has flexible working hours is important. Good rate of pay is crucial, holiday pay, bonuses and a good pension scheme. A scheme where shares are available to purchase." Man, 40, North West
"Earning enough money to support a family and pay for a home and save for retirement whilst enjoying a good work/life balance." Man, 59, West Midlands
"A good job is one that you enjoy doing, not a job that is imposed on you. A good job is when you have freedom in your everyday life." Man, 37, South West
"For me, the thing that makes a good job for me is that the salary is good and the customers are really nice. Also, the boss and colleagues treat you nicely." Man, 34, Yorkshire and the Humber
"A good job for me is where the work times are flexible so I can take control of my own hours. Also where I can work independently as I believe I work better. Another thing I look for is the new experience, skills and knowledge I can attain from this job." Man, 47, London

Usman, Bradford

Usman worked in various different jobs before driving for Uber, including at a petrol station, a bank, and running his own clothes shop. He has plenty of friends and family who drive for Uber, and they encouraged him to try it. He now drives anything between 40 and 60 hours a week, depending on his commitments.

“One of the best things I've done in my life is to be an Uber driver,” he says. “Uber is highly efficient. It just works in every aspect for me, money wise, efficient wise, time wise, you know, there's no stress. I can log on and go to work for a couple of hours, you know, for just two hours, but just the flexibility is amazing. If I need time off or if I need to go somewhere I literally just switch the app off.”

Family is the most important thing for Usman, and before working as a driver he found it much more difficult to take time off to help them out. “Uber has had quite a positive impact on my life,” he says, “because it's allowed me to make more time for myself.”

Why does this type of flexibility matter?

One reason is that drivers were systematically more likely to have other important responsibilities, from caring for family members to learning or personal projects. Whereas a majority of the general public (53%) said that they did not have any other responsibilities or projects that take up significant amounts of time in a regular week, this was only true for 28% of Uber drivers.

Besides your main job, do you have any other responsibilities that take up significant amounts of your time in a regular week? Please select all that apply

In our interviews with drivers, we saw a similar story: many were combining their driving with looking after family, studying for another qualification or running another business - or sometimes all three.

Given these many other interests, it is perhaps less surprising that drivers valued flexibility so highly. For many of them, it seems likely that they would not be able to commit to a fixed schedule and keep up their other responsibilities - and hence, without the flexibility would lose the opportunity to earn.

In order to further test this, we asked drivers a series of hypothetical questions, asking them about what they would choose in a potential trade-off between losing their current flexibility and potentially higher pay.

Based on this, we estimate that the average drivers would have to receive a salary over 60% higher to compensate for losing the ability to set their own hours. A majority of drivers (55%) would rather keep their current flexibility than receive an income 50% higher. This suggests that on top of drivers’ take-home earnings, the flexibility which the Gig Economy offers could be worth the equivalent of as much as another £13 bn in total.4

Case Study from the Open University on their partnership with Uber.

Our partnership with Uber is a comprehensive incentive programme for Uber’s most loyal UK drivers, which we have been successfully running since October 2019. In fact, last year The Open University/Uber programme won two industry awards - including a Guardian Higher Education Award - in recognition of its groundbreaking approach to learning.  Our flagship partnership allows drivers to study for an OU undergraduate degree free of charge, or to pass this ‘credit’ onto a direct family member.

The Open University saw a mutual benefit in partnering with Uber;  to ensure that the best drivers could be rewarded and retained, whilst supporting them and their families to gain further education and qualifications, which opens up new opportunities for drivers across the UK. The demographics and diversity of the drivers and their families - and the structure of the programme itself - are tied strongly towards The Open University's social remit of making education accessible to all.  The programme provides opportunity for those who may not previously considered they could achieve or indeed afford a University qualification. This is not to mention those who would not be able to accommodate traditional higher education learning around their day jobs, yet the flexibility which underpins both The Open University and Uber’s organisations enables drivers to learn - and earn - on a schedule which suits their lives and needs.

Currently there are over 1800 drivers or family members studying on undergraduate courses, of which more than 700 are studying at full-time study rates; another reflection of the flexibility which driving on the Uber app provides. Popular courses include Business Management and IT/Computing, especially in the area of Cyber Security.  We also have Uber students who already had a degree from their birth country in areas such as Law but were unable to practice in the UK and who are now studying the UK equivalent with The Open University, demonstrating the breadth of backgrounds of our learners, and Uber drivers. 

This programme is unique from other corporate sponsorship schemes in extending our offer out to family members - currently 35% of students in this Uber partnership are family members of a driver.  This has allowed families to afford for their children or spouse to study for a degree and to help them toward achieving their career aspirations.

What we’ve found both fascinating and rewarding is that Uber students are high achievers, typically scoring between 85%-100% of assignments and collectively exceeding the average score of the wider student cohort at The Open University. This start to the partnership means we are excited about the future, something which As one of the Uber drivers on the programme shared with us:

“I see it [the programme] as a life changing opportunity to study further and change my future…. Uber already changed my present but if helping me get my degree and paid for, that will be amazing”

Rosetta Stone

At Rosetta Stone we have a mission to bring people together using language. The experience of catching a ride is synonymous with conversation and language, so this partnership seemed a natural fit, especially with Uber's desire to support the personal development of many drivers who don’t have English as a first language. This story chimed with the very reason why Rosetta Stone was first set up in 1992 – an effort to create a new way of learning languages through natural immersion.

We hoped that the combination of two large brands, each leaders in their field and specialists in the use of technology to deliver their services, would be able to provide a unique benefit for drivers, perfectly aligned to their particular needs. Like Uber drivers, Rosetta Stone is designed around flexibility, with users able to organise their learning around the priorities in their lives.

After a short pilot earlier this year established how successful the project would be, we knew that moving onto a full partnership was the right thing to do. We were able to offer a bespoke product for Uber, enabling drivers to learn in whatever language they wanted and offering custom content focused on rideshare interactions in an experience fully integrated into the Uber app for drivers.

Whilst the full partnership only launched in July, we have already been delighted by the response. The first few days saw more than 1000 new learners signing up per hour and we can’t wait to see the full results as our partnership with Uber develops.

Why do people have mistaken impressions of the Gig Economy?

Given that drivers report high levels of satisfaction with their work, why do many commentators continue to push the idea that working in the Gig Economy is less pleasant work than the traditional economy?

As part of our research, we asked both drivers and the general public how favourable an impression they have of how Uber treats its drivers. We found a striking difference: 62% of those with the most direct experience, Uber drivers themselves, had a favourable impression, compared to just 20% of the general public.

One significant reason for this was just a lack of familiarity: significantly higher proportions of the public either had a neutral opinion or said that they just didn’t know.

How favourable or unfavourable an impression do you have of how Uber treats its drivers?

But more notable  reasons for the divergence in perceptions are some systematic misunderstandings about drivers’ day to day experiences and reasons for choosing this line of work as well as a low knowledge of the benefits that Uber drivers are entitled to.

To start, when we asked the public their impressions of driver satisfaction, just 6% said that they expected drivers to be very satisfied - compared to 41% of drivers scoring their job satisfaction as either a 9 or 10 out of 10.

Thinking about the average worker in each of those industries, how satisfied do you think they are with their work?: Driving or taxi5

The aspects of work with Uber identified for improvement also differed between the general public and drivers themselves.  When we asked the general public what changes they thought would most significantly improve the quality of driving and taxi jobs, the second most popular choice was guaranteed hours (38%) and greater job security (38%). By contrast, as we have seen, it is the flexibility that most appeals to many drivers - and just 19% and 17% respectively of drivers said that not having guaranteed hours or job security were one of their least liked features of working through Uber.

We also saw some slight contradictions in the public’s stated beliefs. We asked both the general public and drivers whether they agreed with a series of statements on flexible work - and actually saw complete agreement between the two that a traditional full-time job with fixed hours isn’t suitable for everyone.  (That said, while the total proportion agreeing was near identical - drivers were much more likely to strongly agree, suggesting they cared more.)

Despite this, however, a significant proportion of the public (40%) said they agreed that everyone would benefit from fixed hours, directly contradicting the statement above.

To what extent, if at all, do you agree or disagree with the following?

Finally, we found evidence that awareness of some of the recent changes Uber has announced to its business model for drivers were still relatively low:


Just 47% of the general public believed that Uber drivers receive the National Living / Minimum Wage

Just 30% of the general public believed that Uber drivers receive holiday pay

Just 26% of the general public believed that Uber drivers receive injury and disability protection

Just 22% of the general public believed that Uber drivers receive a pension

In reality, Uber drivers now receive all of the above.

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What is the future potential of the Gig Economy?

There is currently no official estimate of the size of the Gig Economy. However, we estimate that in total it is likely to account for around £25 bn in GDP, or just over 1% of the UK economy.6 While in this report we have focussed on ride hailing services, globally they make up only around half of the total transaction volume of the Gig Economy.7

In 2018, BEIS estimated that around 4.8% percent of the population of Great Britain - or the equivalent of 2.8 million people - had worked in the Gig Economy in the last year. In our own recent polling, we found 7% of the public claiming to have worked in the Gig Economy in the last year.

In recent years, the Gig Economy has been growing at a rate of 18% a year.8 If this continues for the next five years,  the total size of the Gig Economy will more than double, reaching around £60 bn in real terms by 2026.

Looking to the long term, we think there is also significant potential for the Gig Economy to grow as a way for individuals to gain additional income on top of their main job or to fill in gaps between traditional jobs, and as other types of Gig Economy work become more popular. While ride hailing is a good fit for many people, as we have seen above it is not necessarily right for everyone.

For example, in another nationally representative poll, we asked the public which of today’s main forms of gig or sharing economy activity they thought it is possible that they might do in future. Overall, nearly three quarters of UK adults said that it was possible that they would use an app or online service to earn income in the future, and around 30% that they might work through the Gig Economy.

Which, if any, of the following do you think it is possible you will do in the future through an app or online service?

As important, we saw significant appetite for for earning additional income:


said that they would perform a one-off task similar to their main job for a rate of £10 per hour

said that they would perform a one-off task similar to their main job for a rate of £25 per hour

said that they would perform a one-off task similar to a household chore for a rate of £10 per hour

said that they would perform a one-off task similar to a household chore for a rate of £25 per hour

What is particularly striking about this is that median hourly pay in the UK is around £14 per hour9 - whereas a majority say that they would actually be willing to work more on a one off basis for less than this. This suggests that there is significantly unmet demand for additional flexible work.

Based upon this, we estimate that the total size of Gig Economy work done on the side could reach £4.7 bn in additional economic growth. This could be a rare win:win:win for policy - raising incomes for average families, increasing convenience and affordability for consumers and generating extra tax revenues for the public services.

Chris, Edinburgh

Chris joined Uber after spending 30 years as a retail manager. His partner’s busy career meant that he was needing to spend more and more time doing childcare. “I needed a job that was majorly flexible” says Chris, “It suits my lifestyle”.

In his previous role, Chris often worked unsociable hours. Now, he never works nights or full days, ensuring he is always available to babysit. “I got tired of working Saturdays or Sundays and some nights and all that kind of stuff. I just had done it for too long”.

He’s keen to make more time for fun in general and likes having a well-paid job that affords him this lifestyle. He’s also been able to spend more time with his older son. They’ve been able to go and watch their beloved Celtic together, and go for drinks more regularly.

As he says, “I want to make sure the rest of my time on earth is on my terms.”

Jolanta, London

After moving to London from Latvia, Jolanta worked as a bus driver, before starting driving for Uber in 2018. Being in control of her own schedule is a crucial part of Jolanta’s work: “For me, it’s very important to choose my hours and to have freedom. Time is very important to me and I don’t want anyone choosing for me.”

Meeting new people was one of the big reasons for her career change. As a driver she likes to talk to her clients about a range of things, and she’s enjoyed improving her English and making friends that she stills sees regularly. “I have made friends from different cultures, religions, one of them is coming to visit in September!”

She’s also pursuing a business and marketing course at university and hopes to launch her own car business soon - although she would still like to continue her Uber Luxury ambitions alongside this. As she put it, “I can Uber Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and run my business on weekdays”.

Jolanta’s job allows her to play a big role in her family setup. “With my job I can help my family, and I can always find time to do something. I’m the cover in the family, because I can always drop offline and do things, like take my niece to school”.

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Securing the Future of the Gig Economy

The Gig Economy offers significant opportunities for workers. However, that does not mean there isn’t more that can be done to support platform and flexible workers more generally - and particularly those who work in it full-time.

Current employment and welfare policy is poorly targeted to meet the needs of both Gig Economy workers and the more traditional self-employed, failing to keep pace with the changes in the economy. Our current systems simply do not do a very good job for those who don’t fall into a traditional employment model. For example, while auto-enrolment has helped raise the level of pension savings for traditional employees, among the self-employed less than a third (31%) are currently saving into a pension at all.10 Unlike those in a traditional job, the self-employed have nobody to pay them sick pay when they get ill. In a normal year, only a third of the self-employed take off as much holiday as all employees are automatically entitled to.11

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate about the employment status of gig economy workers. Some have argued that they should be treated as employees - but to make this work would effectively require fixed hours, and eliminate the flexibility that makes Gig Economy work so appealing to those who earn income from it.  At the same time, it would risk pushing more people into full self-employment, with even fewer employment protections, potentially expand cash-in-hand and grey economy tax evasion. The combination of these factors would risk acting as a deterrent for the next generation of start-ups who want to experiment with innovative business plans, away from traditional models. 

At the same time however, the economies of scale provided by Gig Economy platforms and the opportunities provided by new technology  do allow us to go further than the minimal support we currently offer for the self-employed. Just as the Gig Economy has created more flexible work, we need to look at how we can create more flexible employment benefits.

While the UK already has three types of employment status (employee, self-employed, worker), the distinctions between the three statuses has always been ambiguous - and in the last few years their application to the Gig Economy has been repeatedly tested in the courts. Fundamentally however, the right balance in rights and responsibilities between the three classifications is a policy decision, and better decided by policymakers than the courts. In the final section of this report, we look at why we need a new Flexible Work employment status to replace the current Worker status.

The Gig Economy and Employment Status

In 2016, the Government commissioned an independent review from Matthew Taylor, the then Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts, into how employment law should evolve to adapt to recent changes in working practices, such as the rise of the Gig Economy. Among its recommendations, the review proposed renaming the Worker category to ‘dependent contractor’, and introducing clearer statutory guidance on who should be included in, with more emphasis on personal control rather than performing work personally.

In 2018, the Government responded to the Taylor Review with the publication of the Good Work Plan, which included commitments to to “legislate to improve the clarity of the employment status tests, reflecting the reality of modern working relationships.” This has yet to take place, although the current administration has promised a new Employment Bill soon, which could incorporate it.

At the same time, multiple court cases have continued to test the right classification for gig economy workers, based on the current law. In February 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in Uber BV v Aslam that Uber drivers in the UK were workers and thus entitled to its traditional rights, including the minimum wage and holiday pay.

By contrast, in June 2021[?], the Court of Appeal ruled that Deliveroo riders were self-employed, not workers, as they retained the right to use a substitute to perform deliveries (something Taxi and Private Hire drivers cannot do) rather than do the work personally.

Why do employment rights need to vary at all?

Balancing employment rights, compensation and responsibilities has always been a trade off - and UK law has always recognised a sharp distinction between the appropriate responsibilities from a full-time employer, and a one-off commissioner of the self-employed.

Every employment contract involves more than pay. In many areas, it doesn’t make sense to create uniform, statutory standards: it is up to the job applicant to decide how much they care about free coffee, in-house email etiquette or how sociable the team is out of hours. As we have seen throughout this report, many people have a different idea of what most matters for creating Good Work for them. But equally, just as we do not let individuals work below a certain salary - the minimum wage - there is a minimum set of employment rights and benefits that we do not let  full-time employees fall below, from sickness protection to parental pay.

Sometimes, such as rules against discrimination, this is because of fairness or ethical concerns, or because these protections can only realistically be safeguarded by the firm. Other times however, it is just more efficient to take advantage of the economies of scale or the existing relationship between employer and the employee - but it is possible to imagine these benefits being offered through a different means, such as the Government or through a third body.  Historically, many of the rights provided by today’s welfare state were once tied to an employer, or provided externally by a trade union or friendly society. In the US today, healthcare is still organised as an employment right, rather than through national provision.

For the self-employed, the trade-off has always been seen as different - both in terms of employment rights, and how you are treated by the welfare state. When you work for multiple clients and have complete control over your hours, concepts like the minimum wage become less relevant. If you hire a plumber to come fix your boiler, it is probably not proportionate for you to become responsible for their holiday pay or pension.

Similarly, when we asked the public, there was widespread agreement, an intuitive definition of an employee, that they should primarily receive instructions from a single company, rather than through multiple digital platforms.

Which, if any, of the following would you describe as an employee?

How does the UK’s current system work?

Workers in the genuine Gig Economy share similarities with both traditional employees and the independent self-employed: they have complete control over their working hours and can work for multiple clients or companies at once, but simultaneously see much of their income channelled through a single platform.

Compared to many other countries, the UK is fortunate in that it already has an in-between employment status between self-employed and employee: the worker. Workers share some of the same basic rights as a traditional employee such as the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay, but do not receive other rights such as maternity or paternity pay. 

However, the current system also has many flaws:

  • It is rarely used.
  • It is confusing. Few people in the general public know the difference between an ‘employee’ and a ‘worker’, and official Government advice remains ambiguous, with little firm guidance for either individuals or businesses. As the Law Society complained in their submission to the Taylor Review, “Determining whether you are an employee, a worker or genuinely self-employed requires the ability to understand complex legislation, which is spread over many Acts, and be aware of a mountain of case law.”
    Additionally, the current nomenclature is unclear, as ‘worker’ is more often used to refer to the workforce in general, adding confusion. 
  • It is inconsistent with tax law. The current tripartite system only applies to employment status, whereas tax law retains a binary system: you are either employed or self-employed.
  • It is hard to maintain a level playing field. The lack of clarity, with boundaries often decided through the courts, means that similar businesses often can face very different employment costs.
  • Using personal service or substitutability as the only test of employment status creates inconsistency and perverse incentives. One of the most powerful features of the modern Gig Economy is the bidirectional feedback between user and worker - but this can create challenges if one of the key tests for employment status is whether you can substitute someone else to do your work.  Whilst it is right that being able to subcontract the performance of tasks helps points towards independence, the position with immediate platform-based work renders existing rules on substitution impractical.
  • It does little to encourage companies to provide more than a minimum. One of the biggest challenges with the current employment status ambiguity is that it can perversely force platform companies to level down - if they offer their workers additional benefits, they risk the courts re-classifying their workforce.  Platform companies should both be able and encouraged to offer their workers additional benefits, such as training, insurance and holiday pay.
  • It doesn’t take account of the potential from new technology. Rather than an all or nothing approach, technology now makes it much easier to scale entitlements and benefits in line with the proportion of your working time that is with any particular company.

The UK’s current Employment Status system



An employee is someone who works under an employment contract


In addition to all worker rights, employees receive:

  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • Statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave and pay
  • Minimum notice periods for ending of employment
  • Protection against unfair dismissal
  • Right to request flexible working
  • Time off for emergencies
  • Statutory redundancy pay

Some or all of these rights might require a minimum length of employment to apply

Worker (sometimes referred to as limb b or dependant contractors)


A person is generally classed as a ‘worker’ or ‘dependant contractor’ if:

  • They have a contract or other arrangement to do work for a reward (contract doesn’t have to be written)
  • Their reward is for money or benefit in kind such as future work
  • They only have a limited right to send someone else to do the work
  • They don’t have to turn up for work if they don’t want to
  • Their employer has work for them to do as long as the contract/arrangement lasts

They aren’t doing the work as part of their own limited company in an arrangement where the ‘employer’ is actually a customer or client


Workers are entitled to (as Flexible Workers would also be entitled to):

  • Getting National Minimum Wage
  • Protection against unlawful deduction from wages
  • Statutory minimum level of paid holiday
  • Statutory minimum length of rest breaks
  • To not work more than 48 hours per week on average
  • Protection against unlawful discrimination
  • Protection for whistleblowing
  • To not be treated less favourably for working part time

May be entitled so sick pay and maternity/paternity pay depending on circumstances of each individual and business.



A person is self-employed if they run their business for themselves and take responsibility for its success or failure.


Self-employed workers aren’t paid through PAYE, and they don’t have the employment rights and responsibilities of employees.

If a person is self employed they may still have some rights

  • They still have protection for their health and safety and, in some cases protection against discrimination
  • Their rights are set out by terms of the contract with their clients

Policy Recommendations

In order to secure the Gig Economy’s full potential  for the long term, boosting economic growth whilst ensuring individuals are entitled to the benefits and protections they need, we recommend that the Government should work on three fronts:

  • Reducing uncertainty about employment classification by updating the current worker classification
  • Make it easier to provide additional benefits to Gig Economy and platform workers
  • Expand the Gig Economy’s potential

Reducing Uncertainty

  1. The Government should use legislation to update and clarify the current Worker classification, renaming it ‘Flexible Worker’. The new Flexible Worker classification would replace the current “limb (b) workers” workers status, making the current tripartite system of employment classification clearer. It shouldlegally apply to individuals who have the ability to work for multiple companies, and complete choice over their hours. This would prevent it being exploited by companies who are primarily following a more traditional model, or who claim their workers are self-employed - the key test should not be whether the work is delivered through an app, but the actual relationship between the platform and platform worker. Real platform work requires genuine choice: platform workers should be allowed to choose their own hours, and work through multiple platforms if they want to.
  2. The Flexible Worker status should be policed by the Government’s proposed new Single Enforcement Body for employment rights. This body can help ensure a level playing field across industries, that workers receive the employment benefits and rights they are entitled to, and there is a clear location for both workers and businesses to turn to for help. At the moment, these responsibilities are across multiple departments and levels of government, significantly increasing the complexity of a co-ordinated response.
  3. For tax purposes, Flexible Workers should either be treated as self-employed, or ideally given their own independent tax status. Given that many of them will work through multiple platforms, and often still receive fewer benefits than a traditional employee, it would make sense to treat them as self-employed. At the same time, however, digital companies and companies that use flexible workers more generally, should be required to report the incomes paid to those who use their platform to HMRC, helping to reduce tax evasion.

  4. Supporting Platform Workers

  5. Platforms connecting customers and Flexible Workers should be legally required to provide access to a minimum set of benefits. Platform companies should be legally required to provide the national minimum wage, holiday pay and pension contributions, in proportion to the time Flexible Workers spend working through the app.
  6. Beyond this, they should also explicitly be allowed to offer their users additional benefits such as sickness pay, insurance, parental leave, and training, without being at risk of employment status reclassification. This could be provided either directly, or through a portable benefits platform. Where possible, we want platform companies to be competing for the quality of services they offer their users, driving entitlements up across the industry.

  7. Expanding the Potential of the Gig Economy

  8. The Government should explore creating an additional £1,000 income tax allowance for self-employed or platform work. This could help encourage current full-time workers to experiment with platform work on the side, helping expand the sector. At the moment, concerns about increased tax complexity put off many people - and in practice, likely lead a significant amount of work to get diverted to cash-in-hand.
  9. The new Single Enforcement Body should provide standard employment contracts and terms and conditions that would automatically qualify for the new Flexible Worker status. While companies could still create their own contracts - or choose not to use them altogether -  these would act as a template, and help reduce uncertainty for existing businesses and start-ups trying to clarify the right employment status for their workers. As originally recommended by Matthew Taylor, the Government should also look to create an online tool that would guide individuals and employers in what employment classification they are likely to fall under.
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Value of Driver Flexibility

As part of our driver survey, we asked the following single discrete binary choice question:

“ Imagine you had to choose between one of the following two options for your work with Uber - which would you choose?:

  • Losing the ability to set your own hours, but earning 10% more per week
  • Staying with your current working arrangements”

X was randomised between 2%, 5%, 10%, 20% and 50%.

We then computed a linear regression to derive a demand curve and then multiplied by total driver pay to calculate total surplus across the economy.

Estimating the Size of the Gig Economy

There is some ambiguity over what is and is not scope for the sharing economy, and only relatively little official data. However, we believe £25 billion is reasonable central estimate, which we have triangulated from four methods:

  • Past estimates of the size of the gig economy, updated for market growth. We extrapolate from CRSE (2019)’s estimate that the gig economy has an economic footprint of £20 billion, uprated for growth.
  • Past estimates of the number and average income for gig economy workers, updated for market growth. We extrapolate from BEIS (2018) estimates of the total number and average incomes of gig economy workers.
  • Extrapolating from existing estimates of the size of the ride hailing market, and its relative share of the Sharing Economy.  We draw on existing Public First data from our previous work with Uber, as well as Statista’s estimate of the total size of the UK ride hailing market.
  • Extrapolating from existing estimates of the size of the  food delivery market, and its relative share of the Sharing Economy.  Similarly, we draw on our own polling data for the relative size of the online food delivery market, alongside Statista’s estimate of the total market size.

Estimating Size of Additional Potential Gig Economy Work

In order to estimate the potential increase in the economy from full-time workers working in the Gig Economy on the side, we combined:

  • Derived from our polling, an estimate of the number of people who say they would be willing to work in the Gig Economy, compared to an estimate of the current workforce
  • An estimate for the average hourly rate workers say that they would be prepared to do additional work for
  • A mark-up for the value captured by the platform
  4. A full methodology for this and other modelling estimates is given in the appendix.
  5. Drivers data was based on a 0-10 scale for job satisfaction. We have translated this into the simpler scale given to the public as follows: 9-10 was coded as very satisfied; 7-8 as somewhat satisfied; 4-6 as neither satisfied or unsatisfied; 2-3 as somewhat unsatisfied; 0-1 as very unsatisfied.
  6. Based on extrapolating from existing representative surveys of the Gig Economy workforce, and other estimates of company or market size. A full methodology is given in the appendix.
  9. Hourly pay - Gross (£) - For all employee jobs: United Kingdom, 2020, ONS, ASHE