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How many people work in the gig economy and what do we know about them?

07 February 2018 | Tags: gig economy, economy, income, work, working, employment

A new report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has revealed that 4.4% of the population of Great Britain worked in the gig economy in the last 12 months, amounting to some 2.8 million people.

The report, entitled “The characteristics of those in the gig economy”, was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and informed their Good Work plan, which came in response to last year’s Taylor Review investigating what impact modern practices are having on the world of work. It used NatCen’s unique probability based panel to explore the extent of the gig economy and explores what kinds of people it employs, what conditions are like and what people on the inside make of it.


Who works in the gig economy?

Our research suggests that those working in the gig economy are likely to be young (56% of those working in it are 18-34) and living in rented accommodation (37%, as opposed to 28% of the wider population). Levels of education among gig economy workers are broadly similar to those in the rest of the population, with 37% of workers in the sector having degrees.

We also found that London was a real hub of this kind of employment; 24% of those who work in the gig economy are based there, which is significantly higher than London’s share of the population overall.

Working for courier services was the most common kind of work carried out by workers in the sector (42%), compared to 28% who worked in transport services and 21% who worked in food delivery. The single most commonly mentioned platform/brand was Uber.


What is it like to work in the gig economy?

Money earned in the gig economy is, for most people involved, only a small part of their overall income. Indeed, for around two thirds of people, it amounted to less than 5% of what they had earned in the last 12 months. The median wage earned over that period was around £375.

However, 13% of gig economy workers did earn more than £10,000 a year from the sector, and 42% felt that money earned in this way was important to their quality of living. Interestingly, it was these people who were most likely to be happy with the conditions they were working in. Of those who viewed the gig economy as important to their standard of living, 74% were satisfied with their overall experience, as opposed to just 48% of those who felt that income from this source was not that important.

Regardless of conditions, it seems that the gig economy won’t be going anywhere anytime soon; 41% of our respondents said that they will definitely be continuing to work in the sector during the next 12 months.

Guy Goodwin, Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research said: “This report is an important first step in defining the nature of the gig economy and identifying the types of people who work in it. NatCen is pleased to have contributed to research that will inform policies aimed at improving working conditions for millions. 

It is interesting to discover that for so many people, this is something they do only on the side, and that satisfaction levels are relatively high. However, the fact that one in four report that they earn less than £7.50 an hour in this sector, does confirm the perception of the gig economy jobs as being very low paid.”