Publication Digital Social security 17 July, 2017

Gainful gigging: employment services for the platform economy

Read the full report  

Growth in digital access and literacy and the emergence of online labour platforms have made it much easier and cheaper for individuals to negotiate short-term employment agreements.

This has encouraged a growing number of people to take up flexible freelance projects or ‘gigs’ via online platforms. Such platforms have expanded rapidly in recent years, and growth trends suggest this is likely to continue.

It is essential, therefore, that as well as ironing out short-term problems in the gig economy, the Government also looks ahead to the opportunities it will soon provide. This report does just this.

It identifies flexibility as a crucial feature of gig work that attracts current workers and makes its growth a huge opportunity. It argues that millions of people with complex work barriers such as older or disabled people may be able to complete some work, but may currently find prevailing models of work, the benefit system and employment services too inflexible. Flexible employment services will therefore be key, and this report offers recommendations for delivering them.

For participants on employment programmes, job outcomes and the steps they must take to achieve them should encourage gig work where appropriate. This will allow providers to help suitable participants into the gig economy where currently this is not commercially viable.

Likewise, Jobcentres should support people to find employment on labour platforms where appropriate. Up skilling Work Coaches in the use of different platforms and building flexibility into the Claimant Commitment will help them to do this.

The Government’s online jobs board, Universal Jobmatch, should also be updated using a programme that collates the individual projects available on different platforms and a machine-learning tool that offers personalised recommendations. This could transform it from a traditional list of vacancies to a sophisticated and highly personalised service for finding work in the gig economy.

Since it represents only a relatively small portion of the current labour market, it would be easy for employment services to ignore the gig economy in the short to medium term. However, trends clearly point to a large and rapidly growing opportunity for many workers.

Ensuring now that employment services are one step ahead could therefore have a profound impact on millions who may otherwise be written off.

Key points:

  • The UK gig economy is rapidly growing and expanding into new sectors, such as teaching and domiciliary care.
  • Most work in the gig economy is highly flexible, and several surveys of gig workers indicate the value they place on flexibility.
  • Many jobseekers such as older and disabled people have a demonstrable preference for flexible work.
  • Employment services currently perform poorly for many of these jobseekers, with, for example, older and disabled people three-times less likely to succeed through the Work Programme.
  • Existing welfare-to-work programmes, Work Programme and Work Choice, only pay providers for moving participants into relatively inflexible work.
  • The Government’s online jobs board, Universal Jobmatch, is not well placed to help jobseekers find work in the gig economy.


  • The Work and Health Programme should pilot the use of job outcome criteria that are more conducive to flexible forms of work for claimants who are unlikely to consistently achieve a fixed level of hours or earnings.
  • Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches should be upskilled in supporting suitable claimants to find work on online labour platforms where appropriate.
  • Universal Jobmatch should use a programme for scraping and collating individual tasks from different platforms in real time, allowing jobseekers to efficiently assess the work currently available across multiple platforms.
  • A machine-learning recruitment tool should be introduced to Universal Jobmatch to offer jobseekers more personalised task suggestions based on the previous work it paired them with.