A review for the UK economy into the gig economy has concluded that the potential of peer-to-peer transactions needs support. The gig economy is feared and attacked by some, but also greeted by others opting to work in it with varying degrees of happiness or acceptance.
Platforms that provide a way for people to make peer-to-peer exchanges offer the potential of good work that is fulfilling and gives workers control – with blockchain technology offering particular promise. But the extent to which a platform economy is fair to people offering services will depend upon the promotion of business models that are empowering to workers.
These were the conclusions of a review undertaken for the UK Government by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, manufactures and commerce) on the ‘gig economy,’ where people provide work on a flexible, ad-hoc basis, according to demand and when they wish to work.
The RSA, a British organisation committed to finding practical solutions to social challenges, was asked by the Prime Minister Theresa May to investigate the new world of work where self-employment and freelancing, often for new platforms, is increasingly common.
The RSA noted in the review’s final report launched over the summer, that a quarter of the population in the UK would consider gig work because of its flexibility and the ability to earn additional income, with highly-skilled workers offering their services through platforms such as Upwork, Talmix, Talent Exchange and People Per Hour. And its sifting of the evidence left the society feeling encouraged by platforms such as Loconomics, a worker-owned platform for undertaking domestic tasks, and Juno, a ridesharing platform that offers drivers stocks.
Blockchain technology, meanwhile, offers “genuine peer-to-peer exchange,” by removing the middlemen of large corporations behind platforms. “No commission is taken,” the report noted, “as the platform is collaboratively managed,” citing the example of blockchain-based La’zooz, which provides real-time, peer-to-peer ridesharing, allowing users to look up their peers.
The RSA also noted that not all platforms lead to value that is created being shared or are as empowering for workers as for consumers. It said to ensure a greater shift to platforms that are, and so allow the good work that platforms can make possible, the Government must take action. It must both promote less reliance on venture capital, it added, which means shareholders have greater power than workers, and seek to support blockchain technology as a way to ‘disrupt the disrupters’.
The report, which was received by the Prime Minister and which the Government will respond to in full, says alternatives to venture capital include crowdfunding and, where this is justified, Government support – allowing it to determine the nature of corporate governance. It said “blockchain technology, WorkerTech to connect workers, and other promising technology that could improve the lives of workers,” were worthy of such support, from the Government’s new R&D fund. A drive to disperse power away from shareholders alone by ensuring a greater mix of types of funding and finance would allow a move to ‘shared regulation,’ the report added.
This would see Government, companies, workers and other stakeholders sharing power and adopting a shared, collaboratively-produced, vision. The RSA noted that one of the largest platforms, Uber, has in the US started to join forces with unions in order to progress the agenda of workers on the platform receiving portable benefits, a move which the society sees as demonstrating that “more radical change is possible”.
To achieve this, Government would have to neither unconditionally support the technological innovation of platforms, nor view them as “entities to be regulated,” but rather “as actors that are a key part of the regulatory framework, in other words as part of the solution, not as part of the problem”. And it could spearhead more collaboratively-run platforms by initiating the collective drawing up of a ‘charter for good work in the gig economy,’ partnering with Sharing Economy UK, to outline what work that is both fair and flexible should look like, the society added.
The RSA concluded that to avoid the danger of human welfare being in any way compromised by technology and market power, the Government can “frame policy according to progressive values”. This will allow the significant value created by platforms as they build new networks of exchange to continue to be created, it said, whilst the enjoyment of that value is felt by the workers as well as the investors.
“As some of the examples of newer platforms in the gig economy show us,” it said, “peer-to-peer businesses have great potential to genuinely empower workers in the marketplace”.
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Lee Baker is a storyteller and community organiser who inspires and prepares people for leadership. He trained as a journalist after writing his first article at the age of 13 and gained a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Literature. His journalism is designed to help influence better policy-making and he works with change-makers to tell their stories to communicate how others might follow. He is a south Londoner who has supported people to confront those in power in Brixton and win changes. He set up his own social enterprise driven by the belief that everybody can demonstrate leadership. He has designed and delivered training courses to help unleash this potential.