I spent the majority of last summer bed ridden. Consuming morphine and painkillers at a rate even Michael Jackson’s doctor would have been concerned by. Even though I was fairly fit, young (relatively) and active, I experienced a freak back injury. Queue numbness and loss of feeling on my lower right extremities, paired with a side of overwhelming pain!
But despite the injury, I was one of the lucky ones. At the time I was in full time employment with a FTSE 100 firm and continued being paid my salary — something that me and my family rely on to afford the extraordinary monthly costs our London based life incurs. Mortgage, nursery fee’s, travel — the list is endless, and I’m genuinely not sure what I would’ve done had I not had my sick pay policy to fall back on.
This was something that my friends also noticed. Like much of the modern workforce — 15% to date — many of my friends have ditched their 9–5 corporate jobs and taken up arms as participants in the “gig revolution”. No, they aren’t Uber drivers or Ocado bag packers, they’re entrepreneurs and independent consultants in everything from property to PR. Their salaries had increased, they always made it home for bath time and holiday allocation was no longer an issue. But despite this, not one of them felt they could have survived financially had they suffered my injury (taking them out of work for months).
None of them had insurance, no-one had decent savings and as the zeitgeist towards a totally independent work force continues to build pace, I couldn’t help but worry about the impact on individuals, families and society as a whole if the safety net that supported me disappears for an increasingly large sector of the workforce. Now more than ever, we need to re-imagine the protections and support available for a generation who seem set on fending for themselves in an uncertain and un-regulated grey area of the modern workforce.
We have been here before of course and it is sad to see history does repeat itself. In the 19th and early 20th Century the working class faced a similar dilemma — zero hour contracts with no safety net (or welfare state) to fall back on. You lost an arm and it was your own problem to get by. The solution then was community built; mutual funds, building societies and eventually the welfare state. With consumer trust in financial services companies at an all-time low and the unions struggling to adapt to the new paradigm is it time communities took control once again and self-protected one another? What is the modern equivalent for our new freelance economy?