This morning, I spoke on the BBC Radio Five Live's Wake Up to Money programme about the gig economy, which is the working practice of picking up chunks of work on a flexible basis.
As a freelance writer, I've used sites like Upwork to top up my income in this way. Such sites provide a link for freelancers who want some extra work and companies who need a little extra manpower.
For me, this has worked well. But there are downsides to the "gig economy". Workplace rights are coming under increasing scrutiny. And quite rightly so.
New research from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) shows that one million workers now use the gig economy.
The To Gig or Not To Gig: Stories from the modern economy report said: “Despite the typically low earnings reported by gig economy workers, they remain on the whole satisfied with their income, with 51% saying they are satisfied and 19% dissatisfied with the level of income they receive. This is significantly higher than the level of satisfaction with pay reported by other workers, where 36% are satisfied and 35% are dissatisfied,” according to The Guardian.
This is an interesting contrast. How can more than half of those using the gig economy be happy with their earnings, if they are typically low?
The CIPD report, and my own experience, may provide the answer. According to the report, the most common reason for taking on gig work is to boost income, according to almost one-third of the 5,000 respondents.
I am, most definitely, in that bracket. I am completely satisfied with my level of income as a freelance writer and sometimes gigging writer.
But, I would not say the gig economy is the sole reason for this satisfaction. The gig economy only makes up around 5% of my total income. Like the vast majority, I supplement my earnings by logging into Upwork and finding a bit work when needs must.
I do no rely on gigging. I use it as and when I want or need to.
Yes, the gig economy gives you another route to find work. It gives you the flexibility to find projects that boost your portfolio. It gives you the opportunity to access projects that you would never find through your own network. It opens doors.
That's the bit I really like. If I want to branch out and write about something different, I can. If I want to earn a little bit extra, it gives me a plausible way to do this.
The gig economy and freelancer lifestyle are natural bedfellows because both offer you flexibility in your work.
Low pay? No way
This flexibility is a double-edged sword. And this is the crux of the issue. The companies tapping into the gig economy have flexibility too in terms of when they hire and what they pay workers.
The majority of those I have worked with in the gig economy pay freelancers a fair rate. You can report businesses that are asking you to work for free on Upwork, for example. It's an important step to ensure the skills of the freelancer community are not undervalued - and a core reason why I support the #nofreework campaign.
But there are also less scrupulous sorts who want to pay freelancers the bare minimum for their skills. Quite frankly, being offering 1p per word is not going to pay the bills. For a 500-word blog post, which can take up to four hours to research and write, that's £1.25 per hour.
This is why Labour MP Frank Field's call for Theresa May to guarantee a minimum wage for self-employed workers is so important.
It is vital that the self-employment lifestyle is not undervalued. Look at the recent debacle surrounding an increase in national insurance on self-employed workers. Before the U-Turn, Theresa May said the shift towards self-employment was "eroding the tax base" and making it harder to pay for public services "on which ordinary working families depend".
On a personal note, I am in an ordinary working family. The suggestion that I am eroding the tax base is laughable at best (I am now much more highly paid and, as a result, more highly taxed compared to my previous life as a permanent employee) and dangerous at worst.
It's dangerous because if you start to tax the gig economy and budding entrepreneurs then you will stifle innovation.
The gig economy gave me an entry point into freelancing. I used it to supplement my income when I was working full time as a software developer. Before I knew it, the supplementary gig work snowballed and I was getting so much work as "the freelance writer who gets tech" that I quit my 9-5 and writing became my full-time job.
I took a chance. I continue to take chances every day as a freelancer because I do not have a guaranteed income every month. The gig economy gives me a speck of reassurance that I can find work every month if the proverbial ever hits the fan.
But, is the gig economy fair for freelancers? If you tread carefully and choose work that pays you a fair wage, then yes. If you use it to supplement your income, then yes.
If you pay me 1p/word? No.
We live in difficult times where many people need to supplement their income using the gig economy. And some workers rely on the gig economy. It is not fair to exploit those working very hard to make ends meet regardless of whether they gig, work or do both.
A fair wage is a basic working right for everyone.
Love or hate it - what are your views on the gig economy? Please let me know if the comments below.
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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