The sharing economy is remarkably widespread in the UK

The report, from Nesta and the Collaborative Lab, found 25 per cent of people in the UK had participated in the collaborative – or sharing – economy. Representing the substantial activity in the sharing economy.

The report defines it as any peer-to-peer service or skill-swap – which includes companies from eBay to AirBNB, the hotel disruptor.

The lines between ‘peer’ and ‘services provider,’ however, are blurred. Questions begin to arise, like: when does a successful eBay ‘seller’ become a small business owner? Or an AirBNB host starts buying properties purely so he can rent them on the website?

In ‘What’s mine is yours’, a book on the sharing economy by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, they define it as: “the reinvention of traditional market behaviours, such as bartering, renting, trading and exchanging, through technology, enabling them to take place on a scale and in ways never possible before.”

Nevertheless, working on this definition, the Nesta report found adoption of the sharing economy is remarkably widespread. Annual growth, they say, is just above 25 per cent. People in full and part-time employment favour the economy, as the most engaged (32 and 34 per cent, respectively), as well as those with children (36 per cent). Skilled and unskilled workers were some of the lowest, and the unemployed at just 14 per cent – despite the potential for selling skills without overhead.

Some of the UK’s largest sharing economy businesses include JustPark, rented parking spaces from business/home owners, and FutureLearn, the UK’s first MOOC (massive open online course) platform.

Despite the growth in the UK collaborative economy companies, we’re still far behind our US counterparts: where Uber, AirBNB, TaskRabbit and Lyft dominate the sharing ecosystem.

The success of the collaborative economy is down to its easy adoption for users. For instance, drivers with cars can become Uber or Lyft drivers; or anyone with surplus capital can become an investor on Crowdcube.

“The core principles of the collaborative economy can be applied in almost any context, whether you’re a multinational corporate or a community group in Cornwall.” said Helen Goulden, executive director at Nesta.

Author and founder of Collaborative Lab, Rachel Botsman said, “The collaborative economy is like a zoom lens, offering a transformative perspective on the social, environmental, and economic value that can be created from a number of assets in ways and on a scale that did not exist before.”

Whether we understand it or not, the sharing economy is making its impact felt across the UK. It may be that in the next few years we begin to see companies which rival to US for their engagement with this new economic engine.

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