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Government should invest in tech to support ‘gig economy’ workers, says Taylor review

Matthew Taylor’s review on the ‘gig economy’ calls on government to invest in digital technology to support self-employed people

The government should invest in technology to support the self-employed and people with flexible work patterns, according to the Taylor review.

The “gig economy” review by former Tony Blair advisor Matthew Taylor sets out a series of proposals on how to support the changes in ways of working in a flexible labour market and calls for protection and benefits for workers employed in so-called gig economy companies such as Uber or Deliveroo.

“The world of work is changing. While traditional, full-time roles continue to represent the majority of employment in the UK, the proportion of people opting for more flexible arrangements or becoming their own boss is growing, with many people choosing to mix and match their earnings through different employers during their career,” the review said.

It added that opportunities created by digital platforms have made this easier and the government should invest money and time in encouraging digital solutions to help self-employed people comply with their legal requirements and think about the future.

The government must harness the use of digital technologies, but also make sure no one gets left behind in an increasingly digital world, it said.

“Technological change will impact work and types of employment and we need to be able to adapt, but technology can also offer new opportunities for smarter regulation, more flexible entitlements and new ways for people to organise,” the review said.

Digital payments

The review, which was commissioned by prime minister Theresa May last year, said concerns had been raised by self-employed people regarding tax payments, including the capacity for smaller firms to adapt and the overall increase in regulatory burden.

It said most businesses wanted to get tax right, but were finding it difficult to do so. The review calls on the government to look at ways to make it easier for both individuals and businesses through the use of online technologies.

“Over half (72%) of those gig economy workers we surveyed said they would welcome an online tool to support them in paying the right tax,” the review said. It added that HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme would “reduce the likelihood of avoidable errors” and make the process easier.

“Once rolled out, most businesses, self-employed people and landlords will be able to keep track of their tax affairs digitally, in real time, and update HMRC on a quarterly basis. This is clearly a step in the right direction,” the review said.

“We were encouraged that HMRC is already working with third-party vendors to encourage development of apps and software through which small businesses, including the self-employed and landlords, will comply with their MTD obligations.” 

“People who use these [sharing economy] platforms hugely value their flexibility”
Richard Laughton, Sharing Economy UK

The review also calls on the government to improve pension provision for self-employed people by making use of digital platforms and the move to cashless transactions.

“For instance, through auto-enrolment currently those who benefit from the labour of someone they employ have to pay a percentage of the worker’s total remuneration into the worker’s pension. The ‘employer contribution’ acts as an incentive for the employee not to opt out of the pension scheme,” it said, adding that a similar approach for the self-employed could be the way forward.

It said that although digital payments aren’t required to make those changes, it could be possible to design payment software that automatically transfers money directly into a pension pot.

Skills training

With new technologies emerging, and fears that robots and artificial intelligence will take over jobs, the report said the government should also bring together employers and the education sector to develop a consistent strategic approach to employability and lifelong learning.

“As people move between jobs and through life, it should be easier for them to talk about the skills they have developed along the way,” the review said.

It added that the government should encourage gig platforms to enable individuals to carry their verified approval ratings with them when they leave and to share them with third parties. This could include the use of “digital badges”, which would serve as a flexible online accreditation that individuals can gain through demonstrating their skills and experience.

Speaking at the launch of the review, Taylor said that as automation takes hold, we should aim to make working life better. “If we want citizens who are engaged and who, to coin a phrase, ‘take back control’, then those values need to apply in the workplace,” he said.

Although Taylor is “optimistic” about the jobs automation will create, in some industries “the effect will be profound”. 

“For example, McKinsey estimates that over 20 million people worldwide are heavy tractor-trailer truck drivers for a living. Supporting them to adapt to the transition to driverless vehicles will be a significant challenge over the next decade,” the review said.

“It’s clear, therefore, that individuals will expect to carry on learning throughout their working life, whether continuously or periodically. We know also that there are significant barriers to them doing this and that this disproportionately affects those at the bottom of the labour market.”

Commenting on the report, Richard Laughton, CEO of Sharing Economy UK, said sharing economy platforms could offer great opportunities to earn additional income in a way that fits with the users’ lifestyles.

“They can also provide a route to entrepreneurship and engage parts of the labour market that are hard to reach. What is clear is that people who use these platforms hugely value their flexibility,” he said.

“Businesses in the sharing economy are ready to work with the government on developing an effective approach to support both fairness and flexibility in the sector.” 

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