Is the COVID-19 pandemic the gig economy’s time to shine?


With a national lockdown looming, firms such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat may become more important than ever to deliver the joys of the restaurant to people’s doorstep

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Image by postcardtrip (Pixabay)

By Hashaam Yaqoob and Barney Andrews

We have all seen them – bright blue bullets on bikes darting around York late at night – but becoming a worker of the gig economy, in this case Deliveroo, still seems to be surrounded by a level of mystique. Deliveroo, Uber Eats and others have grown exponentially in the last decade, but which of these two titans of the takeaway-delivery industry should you work for?

The Application Process:
No, you can’t start right away.. My (Barney’s) journey to becoming a Deliveroo rider took a lengthy three months. Deliveroo’s application portal Fountain is easy to use and the training videos are simple but effective. Complete these, alongside a criminal record background check, and provide other basic details, then you are ready to go… or you should be. Unfortunately, Deliveroo offers the illusion of constantly hiring riders – this does not mean they need all new applicants at the same time. Thus, after applying in late June, it was only in late September that they sent me my shiny new rider kit (free of charge!). In the meantime, expect to be bombarded with emails as they review your application. However, if you plan and apply in good time, it is well worth the wait to become a Deliveroo rider. Uber Eats’ process is of similar ease and length. However, a stark difference is the lack of training they offer to new riders. When using the Uber app to apply, there were no such training videos on cycling safely, conducting a Covid-secure delivery nor how to interact with takeaway restaurant workers when collecting the food. Luckily, you can work for both. If you choose to, apply for Deliveroo first!

How are you paid?
Prior to this year UberEats had a far more sophisticated pay structure. On average you received £2 for pickup, £1.50 per mile and £1 for drop-off. Uber’s party piece is the boost multiplier which can range from 0x to over 2x earnings per delivery. Originally, Deliveroo riders were paid an hourly wage which was then topped up with a small additional payment for each delivery, according to Deliveroo, the average wage for this model was £10 an hour. This year, however, they have switched to a fee per delivery model which has increased the average wage to £12. More recently they have added a multiplier for earnings in busy periods, though this rarely exceeds 1.3x. Both companies allow you to keep 100% of tips. Most important to remember is that your guaranteed income is £0 – you are not a permanent employee of either company. Flexibility goes both ways!

Gig economy composition:
But apart from Barney, who are the workers in the gig economy? It proves to be popular amongst those aged 18 to 34 (54%), revealing that quasi-self-employed jobs like Deliveroo couriers hold appeal to younger generations as a side hustle. However, the most surprising statistic is that a good chunk of workers (34%) hold university degrees, suggesting that gig economy work is quickly becoming more appealing in the job market as other forms of profession shrivel up.

Consumer benefits, or not?
On the surface, the pandemic seems to be a godsend for the gig economy. While restaurants have suffered social distancing measures, the quicker, slicker takeaway industry has fared rather better. However, the first few weeks of the Spring lockdown was a disaster for the gig economy as the UK sluggishly adopted takeaways services. The US already has over a dozen delivery services, compared to the UK's top three. In the UK there is greater monopolistic competition as the big three fight to control the market. According to analysts, this is largely a race to the bottom. In April 2020, the CMA issued a humiliating financial report on Deliveroo as the company admitted it would have to exit the market without financial injection from Amazon. Inevitably they obliged.

Return of the milkman?
A surprising competitor that has emerged during lockdown is the humble milkman. The country’s largest milk and groceries doorstep delivery service, Milk and More, has reported an increase of 25,000 customers and is recruiting 100 milkmen and -women. This offers a vital lifeline to less tech savvy citizens. Perhaps this approach has something the big three do not have? Nostalgia and simplicity.