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 Britain remains a nation of grafters. Some people are no doubt taking on extra work because they’re struggling to make ends meet, but lots are doing it to be better off, or, more often, because they want to pursue something they feel passionate about – 36% of side workers said they were doing it because they enjoyed it and hoped to turn it into a full-time business. If those figures are anything close to accurate, there are 8.25 million people with side jobs and between them they are generating £54bn of additional wealth.
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.
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
First, we could boost the micro-enterprise allowances. One of the better ideas to come out of the current government has been a special allowance for very small traders. You can earn up to £1,000 from renting out a room occasionally on the web, and the same amount from very small-scale trading, and you don’t have to declare that income. That’s a start, but the amounts are way too low, and as soon as anyone is making any real money they run into all the hassle of tax reporting. Why not raise the allowance to £5,000, which would keep a lot of the hustle economy tax-free? That would cost the government some money, but the amount it is collecting is fairly trivial anyway. It would give the whole sector a boost.
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.