In 2016 the Government’s budget heralded two new £1,000 tax breaks, one for asset-based income and the other for trading income. Taking effect on 6th April 2017, the move was seen as responding to increased electronic platform trading and stimulating the activities of ‘micro-entrepreneurs.’
Prior to this development having a second job, or moonlighting, was typically viewed as a hobbyist, secretive or nocturnal activity, best swept under the carpet and left undiscussed in polite company.
However, this modern initiative has transformed the idea into the increasingly popular and acceptable concept of having a ‘side hustle,’ a way of exploring new career or skills opportunities that bring in money while allowing you the flexibility to work a full time, regular job.
All of this leads to a conclusion that the Government is incentivising people with tax-free benefits to take a second job. The practise also draws on under-used assets, such as room in a car, or a spare bedroom, using platforms such as Uber and Airbnb to match demand to products and services.
Similarly manual or skilled services are facilitated through websites including Fivrr and TaskRabbit to offer hourly or task-based labour, while buying or selling goods on eBay and Amazon has given further drive to on-demand economics.
Using online platforms and apps to find suppliers for immediate tasks means that work is often a short-term transaction with no safety net. Workers classed as independent contractors or freelance operatives miss out on benefits for permanent workers in comparative roles.
They have no protection against unfair dismissal, no right to redundancy payments, national minimum wage, no paid holiday, pension or sickness remuneration.
Using a largely self-employed workforce has resulted in enormous growth for many employers. In October 2017 UK Uber drivers won the right to be classed as workers, rather than independent contractors. At the same time Uber’s licence to operate in London, Spain and the Netherlands was revoked. Hardly a stamp of approval for any illusions of altruistic ambition.
There are now 1.1 million workers in Britain’s gig economy facing fragile employment prospects, in addition to those working on zero-hours contracts.
Having a side hustle as well as a full-time job may provide badly needed additional resources if a regular job is poorly paid, but it also adds considerable stress and can negatively impact productivity in both roles. Having down time for family, friends and yourself is widely recognised as being vital for health, wellbeing and work.
The invention of the steam engine turned agricultural society into ‘economy 1.0,’ followed by assembly line mass production leading to 2.0, then information technology and service industries marking 3.0.
Government policies now need to address new ways of working in the 4.0 world, rather than incentivising insecure gig employment. The pervasiveness of the web, the Internet of Things, social media, digital devices, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are driving a technological revolution, merging the real and virtual worlds.
In the 4.0 economy there are exciting opportunities for a sharing-economy, focusing on co-production with consumers and much more. We can enable a successful transition of people’s existing skills with new capabilities which deal with complexity, uncertainty, stronger competition and higher standards of quality and innovation.
We all need and want to feel safe, have the opportunity to develop and create, and be secure in the knowledge that there is protection for us when we are ill or ready to retire.
Employment laws are lagging far behind advances in working practices, leaving many at risk of being denied the application of basic human rights. There is an urgent need to clarify the law, deter misclassification of work and prevent unacceptable exploitation, particularly for those who are most vulnerable in society.
Attractive schemes which can be offered to help individuals and small entrepreneurs to expand their activities and benefit society, such as credits for working-age adults wanting to retrain, are available for our politicians to prioritise, as are grants and tax advantages for up-skilling.
The question is - will we demand clarity about technological innovation in the future, or will robots and AI be allowed to threaten work security and society in the longer term?