This week saw the UK’s inquiry into self-employment and the gig economy, led by the former Downing Street adviser Matthew Taylor, step up a gear as the Work and Pensions Committee heard from a number of current and former self-employed workers who were or are involved in the gig economy. The aim of this process was to elicit evidence on the positives and negatives associated with the relevant type of working arrangements.
The inquiry’s most recent activity was preceded by comments from Labour MP Frank Field who last week suggested, in his own submission to the inquiry, that the government should take further legislative action to guarantee the minimum wage for workers involved in the gig economy.
The inquiry has been set up against the backdrop of the recent scrutiny that employment practices in the gig economy context have faced, with these practices causing a range of distinct and well-publicised regulatory and litigious issues. This increased scrutiny is probably linked to the increase in self-employed individuals in the UK – nearly 5 million people, or 15% of the workforce, are now self-employed, and this number has increased by around 1.5 million people since the turn of the millennium.
It should however be noted that the scope of the inquiry goes far beyond the central gig economy issue. The Works and Pensions Committee self-describes the inquiry as “wide-ranging” on its website, and previously issued a call for inquiry submissions on subjects as diverse as (i) the Universal Credit and how it works for self-employed versus employed people, (ii) the role of Jobcentre Plus and support for newly self-employed people, (iii) approaches to pensions in the self-employment context and (iv) the general issue of how self-employment might contribute to achieving ‘full’ employment.
It will be interesting to track the inquiry’s progress, and moreover, in due course, see what firm conclusions it reaches / whether these conclusions will translate into legislative action.
Sunjay Bhudia (Associate / Dispute Resolution)
David Mendel (Senior Associate / Employment, Pensions and Benefit team)