Recent years have seen the boom of the collaborative economy, a new working model based on digital platforms where services are provided by “autonomous workers”. The online market is currently offering services such as accommodation and transport, sectors for which historically huge investments and complex commercial licensing were needed. These online companies are expanding their model to other sectors, such as cleaning, personal training, private tutoring, etc.
The model of collaborative economy can also become a significant part of the social services sector and it is important to reflect upon such prospects. There are several factors that could lead to so-called “uberisation”.
On the one hand, with the transition to community-based services, more and more people with disabilities are choosing to live independently. This new reality allows to develop a wider range of activities and interests, which means that support can be required at any time, at any location. Therefore, home care services must have more flexible schedules to deliver this new model of care, tailored to the needs of service users.
On the other hand, formal service providers are not always able to provide this flexibility in working hours. They are restricted by labour regulations that do not allow such flexibility in schedules (e.g. EU Working Time Directive). Autonomous workers, however, do not face these restrictions, which puts them in a better position to meet the demands of service users.
As we are a constantly growing sector, markets are becoming more interested in our work, so it is not difficult to imagine a company with hardly any employees starting to provide home care services through online platforms “supplying” “self-employed workers” without limits in their schedules. It could mean an improvement in services, through a continuous evaluation and rating of the “autonomous workers”. It could mean that services are provided in the fastest manner, e.g. by neighbours, since online platforms favour proximity, and could cover the needs of users who may require, at any time, the support they need. It could also help to formalise care work that is currently delivered in the informal market.
But what would it mean to the labour rights and social protection of social care and support workers? We have all heard about the challenges that Uber drivers face. For a sector that is already facing challenges in recruiting quality workforce, social care and support services should avoid further deterioration of labour standards.
Since the economic crisis, Europe has witnessed an erosion of social services. In many cases services were no longer provided by NGOs, but came from private companies offering lowest costs. This cost-driven tendency, which focuses on increasing the competitiveness and cutting public spending, poses a risk of forgetting that social services are about the lives of persons with support needs, not about economic interest.
I believe that a profound reflection is necessary on the future of social care and support services for persons with disabilities. The lack of flexibility on working time regulations and a cost-driven approach can push social care services towards the “uberisation” of the sector, which raises serious concerns that requires careful analysis.
Antonio. B. García Sabater,
Vice-chair of EASPD Interest Group on Workforce Development and Human Resources,
Board member of Fundació Espurna.
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