One in four Britons do some extra gigging on top of the day job. The government should encourage them.
People have always had small, part-time jobs alongside their main career. But the ability of the internet to connect people, to trade specialist items online, and to find new ways of turning what were once simply hobbies into business opportunities, has made such activities a far bigger part of the economy than they were in the past. According to a survey by Vistaprint, one in four people have some form of side gig with average earnings of £6,064 a year. The top 15% of hustlers were making an extra £12,000 a year. Beauty and wellbeing were the most popular gigs, which included hairdressers, beauticians and personal trainers; that was followed by decorating and diet advice. The average hustler is putting in an extra 13 hours a week;17% are putting in an extra 20 hours.
A boost to the economy
So the hustle economy is contributing a huge amount to the official economy (and probably even more to the black one). There is more to it than just generating some extra wealth, however. It is filling in small niches in the labour market that might otherwise be hard to fill. It makes the economy more flexible. A hotel, for example, can hire an extra gardener for a few hours in the summer, or a DJ for a wedding, without all the hassle and expense of taking on a full-time staffer. And perhaps most importantly of all, it is often a stepping stone to full-scale entrepreneurship. Some of those part-time gigs will turn into full-time jobs and then blossom into decent-size firms.
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And yet we do nothing to help it. Even worse, a blizzard of tax and regulations are often actively hostile to part-time hustlers and so are the bureaucrats who implement them. Hustlers have to comply with tax, employment and health-and-safety rules that are designed for far larger organisations. We should start to recognise the value of the hustle economy and try and turbocharge it. Like how?
Three policies to help the grafters
Next, we could make it compulsory for employers to allow their staff to earn money on the side so long as it didn't compete with their main job and didn't cut into their hours. Lots of companies frown on their people using their skills elsewhere, but people should be free to do whatever they want with their spare time. They might even learn some skills that make them more valuable to their main employer.
Thirdly, if we can have tax exemption for micro-enterprises, then we could have a regulatory one as well. Sure, there have to be basic health-and-safety standards that apply to everyone. But there is a raft of employment legislation that is overly complicated for anyone just working a few hours a week. There could be an opt-out for anyone working part-time, which would free up all those entrepreneurs to concentrate on the actual services they are providing instead.
Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years.
He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.
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