GIGWELL (gig work and the welfare state) is an ESRC-funded project on the gig economy and the welfare state. GIGWELL is a cross-national research exploring the insecurity of gig workers in Italy, Sweden and the UK, and addressing the gaps of social protection for platform workers.
Gig workers are defined as workers who find work through online platforms, such as the most famous examples of Deliveroo and Uber. There are also a less known, but growing sector of gig work with a high participation of women, such as beauty treatments, massages and homecare. This area of the economy has been on the rise in recent years and the Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the reliance on platforms to conduct socially distanced work.
The GIGWELL Project explores the link between labour market insecurity and the financial insecurity of gig workers. 96 interviews have been conducted in UK and Sweden involving gig workers working for a range of platforms including a significant number of women and migrants. The emerging findings of the study suggest that the insecurity in the demand of gigs has an effect on gig workers' finances, with many of them having to access debt or borrow money. Gig workers face more barriers in accessing social protection. This is partially the result of barriers to social production for self-employed workers, but it's also something more specific to gig workers.
In some countries like Sweden, some gig workers are actually employed, but this does not seem to have an effect on their insecurity, as they have self-employed features even when they're employed in renewable monthly contacts. Most gig workers, for example, have to use their own means of transport or phones to conduct their 'gigs'. As the platforms do not tend to contribute to gig workers' social protection, no matter their legal status, workers have less protection for their work-related risks. This is a relevant finding as it shifts the focus from the legal debate to the actual access to social protection.
The project is supported by a network of international collaborators, including the European Social Observatory in Brussels and Professor Bruno Palier, Sciences Po, Paris. GIGWELL also has an active Advisory Board comprising of over 40 international policy-makers, stakeholders and journalists. The project will continue to communicate findings from the research over the next 18 months.