Working 9 to 5? Actually, 14m of us are now independent workers

Lynsey Barber
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Renting a room on Airbnb is one form of independent working (Source: Getty)

As many as 14m people in the UK are classed as an independent worker employed outside the traditional 9 to 5 job, new research reveals.

The figures calculated in a new report by McKinsey pegs the number of freelancers, temporary workers, and those selling items on eBay or renting out a room on Airbnb as part of the so-called gig economy, higher than indicated by official statistics on the work force.

Read more: The UK is testing a sharing economy kitemark in efforts to regulate

While work in the gig economy is often characterised as precarious, the study found the majority actively chose this type of work as their main source of income or as a supplement to other work and are more satisfied than those in traditional jobs.

Nearly three in every four do this type of work by choice and more than half do it to supplement other income.

40% - "Casual earners" who use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice

30% - "Free agents" who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it

16% - "Financially strapped" who do supplemental work out of necessity

14 % - "Reluctants" who make their primary living from independnet work but would prefer traditional jobs

The surprising findings come amid rising tensions over workers rights at established firms like Sports Direct which was accused by MPs of operating as a Victorian workhouse, as well as newer firms such as Uber and Deliveroo.

Both the companies which are battling it out for London's food delivery crown hit headlines after riders staged protests over working conditions.

Separately, a landmark legal case is due to be heard in the coming weeks over the status of Uber drivers and whether they are considered self-employed, as Uber argues they are, or are workers with rights to benefits such as sick pay. The result could set a precedent across the industry in terms of the legal status of independent workers in the UK.

Read more: Sharing economy data just came a step closer to being officially counted

While McKinsey's analysis found more work needs to be done, including changes to policy on the benefits of such work and making it a feasible option for people, there are several economic benefits to independent work. They include "cushioning unemployment, improving labour force participation, stimulating demand, and raising productivity" McKinsey found, along with benefits to consumers of increased access to goods and services.

More people are also indicating a desire to work independently which the growth of digital platforms such as Uber or Task Rabbit are likely to serve in future. The digital gig economy currently accounts for 15 per cent of all independent workers while 14 per cent of workers in traditional jobs or who aren't currently working said they would like to pursue this type of work.

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