‘I have no free time’: people top up wages with extra work in cost of living crisis

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Every morning, Ian wakes up at 6am and does online market research surveys until his children wake up. He logs on again during his two 45-minute breaks at the supermarket where he works full time, and at night, he’ll do two more hours. He earns £5 a day from the survey rewards, but he considers it worth sacrificing his free time to maintain his family’s standard of living amid rapidly soaring costs.

Ian is one of thousands of workers who have turned to the gig economy after discovering that their full-time wages will no longer make ends meet as the cost-of-living crisis bites. Some are scouring the web to find surveys and trials offering rewards, while others are signing up to become Deliveroo or Uber drivers in their evenings and weekends.

It is not an easy decision to make. “My children always comment about how much time I’m on my phone. There isn’t much quality time for us. You start feeling the pressure that you need to be hitting those targets for the money. I’m definitely sleeping less. I don’t have any hobbies any more – I don’t have 90 minutes to watch a game of football,” Ian said.

Gig economy platforms are cashing in on the demand from workers looking to top up their wages in their free time, with several platforms reporting an increase in signups since prices started rising at the beginning of the year.

Deliveroo has experienced a 36% increase in monthly active riders since January 2021, while People per Hour noted a 33% increase in UK freelance signups compared with the previous period in 2021. Uber is increasing its force of UK drivers from 70,000 to 90,000, and Fiverr data shows that 58% of UK workers have taken on extra work since the beginning of the pandemic.

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A recent report from Total Jobs suggested that 17% of people had taken a second job to boost their income since the cost-of-living crisis began, rising to 20% for essential workers. One-third of employees said they were considering looking for new, better-paid jobs.

Lots of people are turning to Facebook groups such as GPT Genies to find links to online surveys, downloading trials, watching videos and playing games. GPT has grown its membership, according to its administrator Nikki Pilkington, with about 3,000 extra signups between January and May.

Pilkington said she had seen a big increase in members, and her members say they are using their earnings through the group to “afford simple things like nappies and shoes for their kids” or to pay for gas and electricity bills or petrol to get to work.

“A lot of people are actually quite ashamed that they have to use this way to earn extra money – they don’t even tell their friends and families,” she said.

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While freelance work benefits some people, those who spoke to the Guardian shared their frustrations that a full-time job is no longer enough to meet reasonable living costs, and were worried about the impact of long working hours on their wellbeing.

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Sarah Jacobs*, who has a full-time job working for a tourist board, said she had to take on extra work giving guided tours and writing magazine articles to cope with a £250 monthly increase to her rent and heating bills.

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“I have a full-time job that’s well paid – it’s not a big bank or anything, but it’s a full-time job that’s not entry level, and I feel I should be able to live on that,” she said. “I have no free time. I would like to not be doing it. It’s not a sustainable way of living, but there’s not much else I can do.”

Jacobs said she was battling a constant temptation to be seeking out extra work. “I probably need to ban myself from the Indeed website really, but it’s also necessary.”

The solution, according to Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, the UK’s biggest union, is for the government and employers to offer pay rises to help employees cope with the economic crisis.

She said: “No one should be forced to take on multiple jobs simply to survive. But they do because poverty pay is still all too common. Some employers are providing workplace food banks when proper wage rises are what’s really needed.

“With prices soaring, every employer should be paying decent rates so staff don’t have to juggle jobs, risking their own health and their families’ wellbeing.”

*name has been changed

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