The release of Ken Loach’s film Sorry We Missed You has stirred quite a debate on the nature of employment in the 21st Century.

It focuses on the gig economy, viewed from the experience of one family. The insecurity of zero hours contracts, endless hours of work, pressures on family life and finally everyone being pushed to breaking point.

In classic Loach style, it reveals a whole variety of social problems through a narrative centred on the life of one working family.

What the film helps to reveal is how the terrain of work has changed over the years. Long gone are the jobs for life. People on secure contracts, guaranteed pay, holidays, sick pay and pensions – the secure base that enabled people to live their lives with less worry and stress.

Over recent decades, there has been the arrival of short term insecure contracts. No security, with pay levels so low that people have to do more than one job just to survive.

The gig economy is essentially about shifting all the responsibilities of the employer onto the employee. So delivery drivers, care workers, security guards and a myriad of other professions are all viewed as being "self-employed".

They are usually working for the one employer but that employer offloads all those other previously accepted areas of responsibility.

The damage that the casualisation of work does to families was evident a few years ago when the living wage campaign was launched. It came about originally via a community organising group called London Citizens (which later became Citizens UK).

Its members were drawn from faith and community organisations in London. The members were asked what problems caused the most difficulties in their lives. The feedback was the low-paid work that was forcing people to do two or three jobs just to keep their families afloat. This was having terrible effects on individual and family lives.

The campaign sought to get a decent living wage. Big banks like HSBC and Barclays were approached. The organisation managed to bring together people from all levels of society. On one occasion, I remember sitting in a church hall in the East End with a variety of community representatives, together with the chairman of HSBC and the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood. There were other more disruptive actions, such as banking all the copper coins from church collections at a bank branch in Oxford Street.

The Mayor of London at the time, Ken Livingstone, was also approached. He responded favourably, engaging with the idea and setting up a living wage unit at City Hall. The living wage rate was then set yearly for those employed by GLA staff and importantly for companies providing services. Successive mayors have proved real living wage champions.

The concept has now been accepted nationally by all parties and is actively promoted. It has done much to improve the living conditions of many in society. So a real success story and sign of what can be done, when the will is there. There is still much to do though.

Zero hours contracts have been criticised by the trade unions, the TUC and many others. They play a role in destroying security for working people. There is no certainty in a zero hours contract. There can be a long day of back-to-back jobs or an empty day. The worker is totally at the whim of the employer.

Zero hours contracts give the employer huge power. I remember talking to care assistants, who came to support my mother in her last years. All were on zero hours contracts. When I mentioned joining a union or protesting about some injustice, they would say that the hours would be cut or dismissal follow.

Many of the injustices of such insecure contracts have been exposed over recent years. There has been progress, such as the Living Wage campaign but the gig economy as a whole has continued to grow. What this demonstrates is a real tipping of the scales away from workers toward the employer. The unions have done great work in seeking to rebalance things, often through the courts. But there is still a long way to go before that security is put back into working people’s lives.

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge Labour councillor for Wanstead village and blogger. See