The Gig Economy: flexible work for those with health conditions?
The report cites the growth in online platforms encouraging people into freelance work. However, most interesting from a VR perspective is the link it makes to the need for flexibility for people with a disability or long term health condition.

Think tank Reform has launched an interesting new report ‘Gainful gigging: employment services for the platform economy’.  The report cites the growth in online platforms encouraging people into freelance work.  However, most interesting from a VR perspective is the link it makes to the need for flexibility for people with a disability or long term health condition. It argues that millions of people with complex work barriers such as older or disabled people may be able to complete some work.  However they may currently find current models of work, the benefit system and employment services too inflexible. The report suggests that the gig economy could be a way to tackle the need for more flexible work.

“The prevalence of economic inactivity, ill health and caregiving, as well as the demonstrable preference many have for flexible working conditions, make older workers a useful case study, but younger people with similar barriers could equally benefit from the gig economy. For example, in a survey of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) (more than half of whom are under 50), many indicated that “flexible work, working from home [and] working less than 16 hours per week” would help them sustain employment. A review of the Work Capability Assessment for sickness benefits also found half of those deemed ‘fit for work’ require flexible work hours. Growth in the gig economy might help such people overcome inflexibilities in the existing labour market, offering a valuable source of income to the nearly 3.5 million disabled people who are currently out of work.”

The report also highlights that current support for jobseekers is not well placed to support people into the gig economy.

Access to the gig economy

“In recent years, employment services have been increasingly focused on many of those who would most benefit from growth in flexible work. For example, the Work Programme – the largest outsourced employment programme – is predominately for long-term ESA claimants or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants with more complex barriers. Similarly, Work Choice is a specialist outsourced programme for disabled people. In Jobcentre Plus (JCP), specialist Work Coaches for disabled and older people have been introduced. However, the current service offering is poorly placed to help participants find work in the gig economy.”

The report suggests that Jobcentres should support people to find employment on labour platforms where appropriate.

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.


  1. 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.
  2. Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches should be upskilled in supporting suitable claimants to find work on online labour platforms where appropriate.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The report is an interesting read for VR practitioners.  You can download a free copy here.

Hiring through the gig economy

In a timely coincidence a recent article in People Management considers where in an organisation the responsibility of hiring through the gig economy sits.  It suggests that rather than line management and procurement bringing on freelancers it should rest with HR.  The focus on companies having a diverse workforce is often championed by HR.  So this may also be a positive step to seeing new opportunities for those with disabilities and long term health conditions open up.