Today, there are nearly five million self-employed people in the UK, but according to the Office for National Statistics, knowing who they are, what they do and how many there are is extremely difficult 1.
With the ‘gig economy’ on the rise (3.1 million people have done at least one side job in the last 12 months2) and the self-employed economy rapidly accelerating (4.8 million and counting3), employers and employees are grappling with all kinds of ambiguity around taxation, legal status and even basic worker rights.
On Thursday 31st January, a workshop was held at the Royal Society of Arts in London, hosted by Warwick University’s Institute for Employment Research, Innovate UK and Deployed – a technology start-up using data science to better define work. An opening address was delivered by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, who undertook the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices in 2017.
Other guest speakers included Professor Peter Elias from Warwick University, David Freeman, Deputy Director, Head of Labour Market and Households at the Office for National Statistics and David Hunter, ex-senior statistician at the UN’s International Labour Office. A female founders panel included Emma Rees from Deployed, Gemma Lloyd from Work 180 and Juliette Eccleston from ‘Any Good?’.
The workshop gathered experts including academics, statisticians, lawyers, trade union representatives, think tanks and government to address the definition and classification of self-employed workers, both professionals and those working in the gig economy.
Key findings included:
- It is difficult to agree on what or who is in the gig economy. We need basic definitions that frame the flexible worker economy in terms everyone can understand
- The classification of workers is wide ranging; it is important to determine the definitions that are needed beyond the current three tier classification (employed and self-employed) without overcomplicating the issue
- In order to accurately measure these workers we need better data; this data can be obtained from sharing platforms, administrative data or surveys (providing the right questions are asked)
- Employee rights need to be protected and employers must be brought on board to ensure all parties realise the benefits including quality of work and productivity levels
In his address, Matthew Taylor stated: “The conversations we are having here today are important for three reasons: firstly, we need to understand what is happening in the labour market and address the issue of productivity; secondly, we need systems and classifications for policy makers; and thirdly, we should take the quality of work as seriously as quantity of work.”
Professor Peter Elias from Warwick University added: “It is important that labour market statistics generated by our statistical agencies reflect the changing nature of work, and that they meet the needs of both employers and workers. We look forward to working with private and public sector bodies to achieve this aim.”
Emma Rees, CEO and Co-founder of Deployed said: “The topic of statistical measurement is not one that gets a lot of people out of bed. However, we believe that better defined work, focusing on clear activities and outcomes, can provide many economic and social benefits. We see this workshop as the starting point for ongoing discussions to address this increasingly important issue for the UK economy.”