Push the unemployed into the sharing economy, UK review suggests

A U.K. review into the sharing economy has recommended that the unemployed should be “actively pointed towards” task-sharing platforms, that automated user-matching services should not have to be regulated as employers nor as employment agencies, and that the government should open up its online ID scheme, already under development, for use in the private sector.

The “independent” review, led by Love Home Swap boss Debbie Wosskow and conducted over a couple of months, also recommended that public sector bodies should include accommodation-sharing services in their procurement frameworks, and that public bodies should consider using ride-sharing services instead of public transport.

It also said people letting out a spare room for a few nights a year through a platform such as [company]Airbnb[/company] should not need to adhere to the same levels of regulation as full-blown hotels do – but they should be required to have working smoke alarms, escape routes and so on. The review also called for criminal records checks to be fully digitized so they can be integrated into sharing-economy platforms.

Another recommendation involved the U.K. playing host to a sharing-economy trade body that could lobby for its interests across Europe. This body would establish a “kitemark for responsible sharing platforms,” setting out minimum standards around data privacy, insurance and dispute resolution.

New employment style

London-based Love Home Swap, founded in 2011, is a home exchange platform for those who want to take holidays in different parts of the world. The government appointed Wosskow to lead its review in September.

In a statement, Wosskow said:

The sharing economy is one of tremendous growth, both in the U.K. and around the world, and today’s report seeks to examine both the social and economic potential of these new businesses. From car-pooling to shared office space, the sharing economy sector is undoubtedly coming of age and we hope that today’s recommendations will allow the U.K. government to both fully embrace and correctly regulate this space, as there is a great opportunity here for the U.K. to be at the forefront of the global sharing economy.

Business minister Matthew Hancock said the government would provide a full response to the recommendations in early 2015.

The recommendation that Jobcentres should steer unemployed people toward “time banking” and task-sharing platforms fits right in with the coalition government’s existing policy of forcing such people to take zero-hours contracts, with no job security, or lose their unemployment benefits. The report claims that the new sharing-economy platforms would give jobseekers “a way to build up their experience and earn money.”

A U.K. Jobcentre Plus office

A U.K. Jobcentre Plus office

Additionally, Wosskow’s report pushed the idea that “platforms which play a passive role in matching users (where there is no human intervention by the platform) are neither employment businesses nor employment agencies, but instead are a new form of service with lighter regulatory needs.”

However, the review also recommended that “skill-sharing platforms should agree to ensure workers are paid at least the Living Wage” and said “both platforms and the government have a responsibility to ensure workers’ rights are maintained.” It acknowledged that some people have lost their social safety-net benefits by “earning even a small amount of money” but said that the Universal Credit, a new type of benefit being introduced in parts of the U.K., “should help to resolve this by ensuring all recipients are never worse off by earning money.”

Online ID

As for the online ID element, this recommendation would extend a beta program called GOV.UK Verify to private-sector businesses, including sharing-economy platforms. The Verify service currently makes it easier for people to prove their identity when using online government services such as online tax credit renewals. Its developers have claimed that it is “a federated model of identity, not a centralized one.”

The system operates various levels of identity verification, ranging from “no idea who this person is, but it’s the same person that used the service last time” to “this is probably Person X” to “this is definitely Person X” to “we need biometric information to confirm this person’s identity.” It’s not clear which level would be required for sharing-economy services under the report’s recommendation.

The Wosskow review also called for car clubs to be integrated into public transport schemes, and for the government to launch a pilot of a “U.K. sharing city where transport, shared office space, accommodation and skills networks are joined together and residents are encouraged to share as part of their daily lives.”

All in all, the review’s recommendations appear to be a mix of the sensible (establishing safety and insurance standards) to the deeply worrying (transitioning employment into a world of no benefits and no job security.) Now we just need to see what the government’s response will be in the new year – a period that will be marked by campaigning ahead of the May general election and, if history teaches us anything, legislation being steamrollered through Parliament.

This article was updated at 2am PT to add further detail from the report, and again at 3.15am PT to remove a reference to Uber, which is not actually mentioned in the report (probably because it’s not part of the sharing economy — my bad.)