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The different faces of the gig economy

According to a McKinsey report gig workers have very different experiences but generally fit into categories: free agents, casual earners, reluctants and the financially strapped

The free agent: Elaine Rashbrook, 50, from Essex

“I decided to go freelance writing research reports when I was made redundant about five years ago from my full-time job. I had young children so didn’t want to have to travel to London. It was a lifestyle choice.

“Now about half of my income comes through PeoplePerHour, the rest through direct clients that may have come through PeoplePerHour to begin with, or from elsewhere. It’s good I started working with PeoplePerHour quite early because there’s so many profiles on there now and it takes time to build your reputation.

“You can bid for jobs or you can do what they term ‘hourlies’. I sort of use them as loss leaders so I’ll do a small market report for £150. That’s a very keen price but often leads to another job. There’s a lot of competition on these sites from Asia, but there’s not as much global competition on PeoplePerHour as others. I’ve done some work with Upwork and that’s horrendously tough; the pricing is very keen and you get a lot of open bidding, which I think encourages a race to the bottom. It’s more cut-throat.

“The cut PeoplePerHour takes depends on how much you earn over the month. For the first £300 they’ll take about 20%, which is huge, but the more you do the lower it goes. If you get up to £1,000 I think you’re only paying about 3%.

“It does happen with freelance that someone says the job you did was rubbish and they’re not paying. That could happen on any forum, but with online you’re less likely to ask them to still pay because then they’d give you a rubbish review. It’s all about keeping that five-star rating. I couldn’t have built my business without PeoplePerHour though and I can’t rate it highly enough.”

The casual earner: James Bernard Berk, 27, from London

“Working for Deliveroo and UberEATS is a summer job between studying architecture. I didn’t want a nine to five office job; I wanted to get fit and I like cycling.

“I’m in Dalston and that was the trial area when Deliveroo initially put in the £3.75 per delivery scheme rather than the hourly £7 plus £1 delivery rate. Initially I wasn’t happy because that means if you’re not working peak hours you’re potentially not going to make anything. But personally it actually worked out quite well doing part-time peak hours. Initially with Deliveroo I had to do two nights every weekend but with the new scheme it’s up to you when you log in.

“Deliveroo went out with me for an hour to test my navigation and make sure my bike was roadworthy. With UberEATS you just sign up and off you go. Some people are carrying bags or holding phones. There’s no safety checks.

“Uber even more than Deliveroo is so far removed from its cyclists; it’s really difficult to get in contact. Recently there was an error with UberEATS’ technology and I couldn’t accept orders. That meant my acceptance rate was 40%. But I needed an 80% acceptance rate to get my £4 promotion bonus, which is what makes working with UberEATS worthwhile. I spent so long trying to get in touch but I kept getting automated response emails. I’ve probably lost about £40 or £50.

“You can tell Uber is trying to take over this market so it’s just kind of going at things full pelt. The app is pretty much just a copy of what taxis use; it’s not really been well-designed for the courier side of things. I get angry and annoyed, but at the same time it’s good to be able to log in and earn £30 or £40 in three hours.”

The reluctant: Elly Hopkins, 29, from Bristol

“I did cycling with Deliveroo for a month earlier this year. I’d been away and was unemployed and in need of cash. I like riding my bike and being practical so I thought I wouldn’t mind it.

“They sell it to you as ‘come and get trained and then you’re off’, when in fact it was much more of a faff. I had to go in to the head office two or three times. It was kind of chaotic. In my interview I was told it would be around £40 an hour.

In reality I never did enough drops; it was physically impossible.

“You’d get sent your shifts weekly and then you’d negotiate a bit what days you could and couldn’t do. You had to take weekends and evenings at first, then you could ask for daytime shifts when you’d worked with them for a month. I didn’t last that long. I was under the impression that it would be more flexible and there would be room to get more and longer shifts. Deliveroo said I’d be able to do it locally, but my area was full so I had to travel 40 minutes either side.

“If I had a problem with an order I never got through to anyone. Once I had to deliver a single Nando’s burger but when I got to the house the guy wasn’t in. So I had to wait half an hour while he came back in a cab. I didn’t get paid for that time spent waiting.

“I was told verbally to sign out of the app at the end of my shift because I wouldn’t be paid for jobs outside of that, but I met guys who’d spent the first few weeks doing overtime they weren’t paid for because they hadn’t been told.

“It was fascinating to see who else was doing it. It was generally young ethnic minority men. It felt like people were scrabbling, it was a stop-gap and people didn’t want to be doing it. I feel like Deliveroo thought if it said ‘if you’re quick you’ll do well’ the young guys would rise to that. But a lot of it’s out of your control.”