From thriving to struggling: how our flexible workers are experiencing the cost-of-living crisis

Pressures on the family budget are being felt by everyone, but those who earn the least are most affected.
Mark Griffiths
Mark Griffiths
Head of Social Impact
Research
Worker wellbeing

They entered the cost-of-living crisis with fewer savings and less leeway in their budget. Now that we are in it, they are having to spend more of their income on essentials such as energy and food. 

Of course, lower paid work is not unique to the platform economy, but some features of flexible work heighten economic anxiety. For example, flexible workers often don’t have the established social support mechanisms, or access to decent protections such as sick pay, that employees take for granted.

Better understanding the effects of crisis

We spoke to seven of our members, who are workers in the platform economy, to better understand how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting them. What are they thinking, feeling and doing?

We used a semi-structured interview guide, and independently coded the interview transcripts to identify themes and then insights. This gave us this view of the mental world they live in:

Changes in attitudes towards work

Five of our seven interviewees, who are all couriers or riders, expressed a change in attitude to their job: whereas once it provided enough money, now they are struggling. 

For some, this has resulted in feelings of purposelessness and anxiety: 

Mapping out interview responses

We mapped where our interviewees are along two dimensions:

  1. Are they ‘Visitors’ to the flexible economy: for example, are they working flexibly only in the short-term. Or, are they a ‘Resident’: for example, the platform economy provides their main, and ongoing, source of income?
  2. Are they thriving - for example, reporting feelings of vitality and stability - or are they struggling like Ali, who told us “it's become very, very hard to [have a] proper life.”

This gave us this picture that we will add to over time:

Those who are struggling are hyper-aware of the cost of everyday purchases and highly motivated and skilled at getting the cheapest price. 

Our interviewees think in terms of pence, not pounds:

Alongside that, stopping, or giving-up, things that you enjoy (such as eating out or entertainment ) was mentioned 39 times by our interviewees. Deal hunting was mentioned 25 times.

When asked to give advice to others, cutting out inessential spend was mentioned by all interviewees:

We’re all learning new economic terms to describe what we’re going through. But, sitting behind these abstract forces are feelings of worry, of life’s pleasures being stripped back and of uncertainty. 

Each and every interview was a privilege for us. It was also humbling; we’re conscious that, in many ways, a proportionate response to the times we’re going through can only rest with government.

Yet, how can platforms, and others who support flexible workers, think more like social entrepreneurs and provide support rooted around human connections to those who are struggling most? What are the opportunities to add in more joy?

Or, as consumers, how can we make more effort to thank and establish a human connection with the people who deliver our food or move us around? As Ahmed told us, it is a rare experience for a customer to “smile at him or stand for a couple of seconds or, even say, have a safe drive.” 

That can’t be right, and is something we can all address.

October 4, 2022
Contents
Research
Worker wellbeing

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