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Gig-working in England and Wales more than doubles in five years

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The number of adults in England and Wales working for gig economy companies has reached 4.4 million and is now two-and-a-half times bigger than in 2016, according to a report highlighting the rise of insecure working practices.

Almost 15% of working adults now get paid by platform such as Deliveroo, Uber and Amazon’s delivery arm Flex, compared with about 6% in 2016 and just under 12% in 2019, according to research for the TUC union carried out by the University of Hertfordshire and the consultancy BritainThinks.

Prof Neil Spencer, who co-authored the research, said it indicated that gig work made up a substantial part of the UK’s economy and added: “I expect it to grow.”

He said the research indicated an especially strong rise in such employment among couriers and those doing other driving work, as well as in errand and odd jobs services. Almost a quarter of workers have done platform work at some point, up from one in 10 in 2016, the study found.

The term “platform work” covers a wide range of gig economy jobs that are found through a website or app, and accessed using a laptop, smartphone or other internet-connected device.

In the past five years, the study found, the proportion of the working population carrying out platform work at least once a week has more than quadrupled in delivery and driving, and more than doubled in household services. Errand-running is up nearly three times.

The authors found an overwhelming majority using platform work to supplement other forms of income, with gig workers increasingly likely to patch together a living from multiple different sources, leading to long working days.

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“Gig work can offer flexibility, but many workers also experience lower pay and poor working conditions,” said Spencer.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said millions of workers were having to rely on casual and insecure jobs to make ends meet, and often on top of other work.

“Gig economy platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation,” said O’Grady. “Too often gig workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.”

A landmark ruling earlier this year forced Uber to guarantee its 70,000 UK private hire drivers a minimum hourly wage, holiday pay and pension, and it has signed a recognition deal with the GMB union. The UK’s pensions watchdog has also said that all gig economy firms should set up workplace retirement savings schemes.

However, platforms including Deliveroo, Stuart and Amazon Flex say their workers are independent self-employed contractors without such basic rights.

Even Uber’s UberEats takeaway couriers are not classed as workers, meaning they have fewer protections than its private hire drivers.