The conditions faced by workers in the ‘gig economy’ have been back in the news recently thanks to the publication of findings from the Taylor Review into modern working practices.
This exercise has helped to highlight the vulnerability of the self-employed should they become ill or injured and unable to work.
The Taylor Review calls for gig workers to receive a basic set of core pay rights, comparable to those receiving the national minimum wage. This would include the right to receive statutory sick pay, holiday pay and other benefits.
The report believes the government should treat the self-employed like any other section of the labour market, acknowledging that they require a spectrum of intervention, focused on protecting the most vulnerable.
The Trade Union Council estimates that nearly 500,000 workers on zero hours contracts or in insecure temporary work miss out on the right to statutory sick pay because their pay is too low.
Mr Taylor also made recommendations around return to work strategies for gig economy workers. Additionally, he urged the government to introduce a new category of “dependent contractors” who would not be classed as employers but ought to be eligible for workers’ rights.
How much of this will be acted upon by government remains to be seen. And it might be argued that the gig sector is a little different to a traditional self-employed worker.
Gig work tends to be short-term, casual work that is sought by people through mobile apps when they want to work –think Uber and Deliveroo. Traditional self-employed roles tend to more full or part time and longer term.
What the report has achieved though is a renewed focus on the self-employed sector and their protection needs.
Current protection priorities
There are now more than 4.8m people classed as self-employed, around 15 per cent of the workforce, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The proportion of the self-employed who have taken out their own life cover is slightly higher than it is for those in employment.
According to recent figures from Scottish Widows, 34 per cent of self-employed workers have a life insurance policy, compared with 32 per cent of employees.
But this is reversed when it comes to CI, with only 7 per cent of self-employed workers having cover, compared with 9 per cent of employees.
The same research also found that self-employed workers are more likely to be the sole earner in the family, with 62 per cent the only bread-winner, compared with 52 per cent of employees.
Missing out on workplace benefits
The self-employed can often miss out on other benefits available to employees.
The most obvious benefit not applicable to the self-employed is death in service. While this is a not a universal benefit, it is very common for medium and large employers. Payments are typically around four times salary but can range between two times salary and more than 10 times.