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  • Nearly 1 in 10 workers now do platform work at least once a week
  • 6 in 10 platform workers are between 16 and 34
  • Workers turning to gig economy to top up incomes

The number of people doing gig economy work has doubled in the last three years, according to new TUC and FEPS-supported research published today (Friday).

The survey – carried out by the University of Hertfordshire with fieldwork and data collection by Ipsos MORI – shows that nearly 1 in 10 (9.6%) working-age adults surveyed now work via gig economy platforms at least once a week, compared to around 1 in 20 (4.7%) in 2016.

The majority of gig workers don’t do this kind of work full time. Rather “platform work” is used to supplement other forms of income, reflecting that UK workers are increasingly likely to patch together a living from multiple different sources.

The term “platform work” covers a wide range of jobs that are found via a website or app – like Uber, Handy, Deliveroo or Upwork – and accessed using a laptop, smartphone or other internet-connected device.

Tasks include taxi driving, deliveries, office work, design, software development, cleaning and household repairs.

The survey also reveals that:

  • Younger workers are by far the most likely to work in the gig economy. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of intensive (at least once a week) platform workers are aged between 16 and 34.
  • 1 in 7 (15.3%) of the working age population surveyed – equivalent to nearly 7.5 million people – have undertaken platform work at some point.
  • 6 in 10 respondents report buying the services of a platform worker at some point.
  • A fifth (21%) of UK workers surveyed are notified digitally if work is waiting for them and a quarter (24.6%) use apps or websites to record the work they’ve done. Close to half of both groups were not platform workers, suggesting that gig economy practices are spreading to the wider economy.

These findings align with surveys carried out in other European countries, which show striking levels of platform work. Across Europe, the number of platform workers appears to be especially high in countries with high levels of informal work and low average earnings. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The explosion of the gig economy shows that working people are battling to make ends meet.

“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 world of work is changing fast and working people don’t have the protection they need.

“Government must get wages rising to make sure everyone has a secure job that pays the bills. And everyone working for an employer must get basic rights like the minimum wage and holiday pay.”

Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire, said:

“In a period when wages have been stagnant, people are turning to the internet to top up their earnings.

“We see the Uber drivers and food delivery workers on our streets every day. But they’re only a small proportion of gig workers. They’re outnumbered by an invisible army of people working remotely on their computers or smartphones or providing services in other people’s homes.

“These results underline how important it is to tackle low pay and precariousness. But they also suggest that we need a new deal to provide basic rights for all workers in the digital age”

Justin Nogarede, Digital Policy Adviser at FEPS, said:

“Our research shows high levels of platform work across Europe. The latest survey results from the UK confirm this and indicate that platform work is gaining in importance.

“It’s high time to enact policies to ensure platform workers have access to social protection. We should break the link – often portrayed as inevitable – between platform work and precariousness.”

Editors note
  • These findings are based on a survey of 2,235 UK residents, conducted by the University of Hertfordshire with fieldwork and data collection by Ipsos MORI in association with the TUC, UNI Europa and the Foundation for European Foundation Studies (FEPS). The full report is available here.
  • The UK survey is part of a larger Europe-wide research project by FEPS, UNI Europa and the University of Hertfordshire, which includes 15 surveys carried out online in 13 countries. Previous results and reports can be accessed at the FEPS and UNI Europa websites. The final report will be available next month.
  • The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
  • FEPS is the European progressive political foundation and the only progressive think tank at European level. FEPS establishes an intellectual crossroad between social democracy and the European project and works in close collaboration with social democratic organisations, and in particular national foundations and think tanks across Europe, to tackle the challenges that Europe faces today.
  • The University of Hertfordshire is a vibrant, inclusive, campus-based institution with a vision to be internationally renowned as the UK's leading business-facing university. It is innovative and enterprising and challenges individuals and organisations to excel.  All courses are underpinned by industry insight and powerful research ensuring our student community of over 24,600 graduates are equipped with the skills and attributes for successful professional lives. 
  • UNI Europa is the European trade union federation for skills and services representing 7 million workers, the largest sector of the workforce in Europe. UNI Europa represents 272 national trade unions across 50 countries. UNI Europa is European branch of UNI Global Union, a global union federation for skills and services, with more than 900 affiliated unions in 140 countries representing 20 million members.
  • In the UK, 2238 adults aged 16-75 were surveyed online by Ipsos MORI for the 2016 survey. Responses were collected between 22nd and 26th January 2016. For the 2019 survey, 2235 adults aged 16-75 were surveyed online by Ipsos MORI in collaboration with CINT. Responses were collected between 26th April and 1st May 2019. Data are weighted by age, gender, region, social grade and working status to match the profile of the adult population aged 16-75 in the UK. Ipsos MORI was responsible for the fieldwork and data collection only. University of Hertfordshire was responsible for the analysis, reporting and interpretation of the results.