The Liquid Workforce

Our colleagues over the in UK have come up with some useful terms for what we Americans have been calling the gig economy workforce.  Some folks use the “precariat” and a new term, the “liquid workforce” is also gaining traction.  A new Demos study, The Liquidity Trap, examines the precarious experience of Britain’s liquid workforce, with a focus on improving the social safety net for independent workers.  Work life for Britain’s liquid workforce can be challenging.    These workers are much more likely to be poorly paid than their fully employed counterparts.  In fact, while a segment of these workers are well-paid, 22% of the UK liquid workforce makes less than $13,000 per year.  Not surprisingly, these workers also tend to have spotty benefits, and are also more likely to use non-traditional financial tools like pay-day lending.   Liquid workers like the flexibility of this work style, but nearly half would be willing to trade flexibility for a more secure work experience.

The report makes a number of recommendations to improve services for the liquid workforce.  These include the development of new financial services for independent workers, and new schemes that allow workers to move with benefits as they transition to new work.  This latter provision might work something like our current COBRA laws which allow for extended health care coverage.  The report also calls for bigger solutions, such as a national funding pool that could provide portable benefits to this workforce.  Several European economies, including Belgium, use a benefit model of this sort, which is often referred to as the Ghent system (named after the city of Ghent, Belgium).  While the report is UK-focused, it contains some interesting ideas—big and small—for how we can better support the growing independent or “liquid” workforce.