Sorry We Missed You mirrors what our own research told us about the gig economyby Robert MacDonald / November 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
Ken Loach’s film, Sorry We Missed You, tells the harrowing tale of Ricky, Abby and their family’s attempts to get by in a precarious world of low paid jobs and the so-called “gig economy.”
But how realistic is it? Can Loach’s film be accused of undue pessimism? After all, UK government ministers have applauded the gig economy and the freedom and flexibility of being an “everyday entrepreneur.”
A new study by myself and employment expert Andreas Giazitzoglu investigates what we know about the gig economy, in order to get a clearer picture of what is really going on in the contemporary world of work in the UK.
Narrowly conceived, the gig economy means workers (as independent contractors) doing discrete, short-term tasks—or “gigs”—for companies via digital platforms such as Deliveroo, Amazon or Uber. As one study describes them, these are “labour contracts that are as temporary as is possible for them to be.”
We argue that it is better to see the gig economy as part of a wider shift towards insecure forms of work. Long-term unemployment is no longer a serious social policy problem, but standard, full time, long-term employment is also much less common.
More and more people are churning from “one shit job to another shit job,” as Ricky puts it in Loach’s film, punctuated with periods of unemployment. And as Loach observed (in a Q&A session following a preview), Sorry We Missed You is a sequel to the 2016 film I, Daniel Blake, which explores the degradations of the UK’s benefits system.
These are two sides of the same coin, as research on “the low-pay, no-pay cycle” has shown. Many of these jobs are on zero-hours contracts, which although illegal across much of the EU, have boomed in the UK.
There were fewer than 200,000 of these contracts in 2007. Ten years later, in 2017, there were over 1.8m.
Employers insist that workers want this “flexibility.” But two-thirds would prefer a fixed-hours contract.