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Music industry welcomes UK government’s COVID-19 support for self-employed

By | Published on Friday 27 March 2020


The music industry has welcomed the UK government’s announcement yesterday about economic support for the self-employed during the COVID-19 crisis, although it has also expressed concern that the support won’t be available until June.

Economic measures previously announced by the UK’s Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak to help those financially impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown were focused on businesses and those in formal employment. Trade organisations for the music industry had become increasingly vocal about the need for similar support for the self-employed because the majority of people working in music do so on a freelance basis.

Sunak announced a package of benefits for self-employed people yesterday, insisting that it had taken longer to put together these economic measures because the freelance community is a very “diverse population”, some of whom earn a great deal.

The scheme announced yesterday will benefit people who are formally registered as self-employed with the UK tax authorities, who make under £50,000 a year, and who earned at least half of their income from freelance work in the 2018-19 tax year.

They will be able to claim a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years up to £2500 a month, which is in line with the subsidy available to those in formal employment. Although, unlike the employee scheme, the self-employed can continue to work as they receive this support, which will initially be available for three months.

Although the devil, as always, is in the detail, yesterday’s measures will help many people working in the music industry, including musicians, songwriters and producers, most of whom are self-employed.

However, these grants will not be paid until June, which means those music people who saw their income immediately hit as the live sector went into shutdown – followed by retail, studios and schools – could still face financial hardship in the weeks ahead.

As the interim CEO of cross-sector trade group UK Music, Tom Kiehl, noted last night. Sunak’s package of support for freelancers “will be a vital lifeline to thousands in the music industry where 72% of the workforce is self-employed”, he said. But “we need immediate and urgent help – people are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in”.

He went on: “The Chancellor should outline interim financial help for the self-employed to help them survive until the support scheme kicks in”.

Some in the political community have also raised concerns about the delay in getting support to the self-employed. According to the BBC, the Labour Party’s John McDonnell said he was worried the grants would come “too late for millions”, adding: “People need support in the coming days and fortnight. There is a real risk that without support until June the self-employed will feel they have to keep working, putting their own and others’ health at risk”.

There are also other issues that will affect a portion of those people in the music industry who are self-employed which UK Music wants the government to comment on. That includes “how this support scheme will affect mothers who have been on maternity leave and could lose out because their earnings will be misrepresented”. And “there remains a need for support for those in the music industry that have not been self-employed for very long, including recent graduates, who will not qualify for this grant”.

It remains to be seen if and how the government responds to the various issues that could stop some of those freelancers who need support from getting it.

A number of other music industry organisations that had been calling for support for the self-employed have also responded to last night’s announcement…

Musicians’ Union General Secretary Horace Trubridge: “With over 90% of our 32,000 members being self-employed, today’s measures are vital. We understand that implementing this system will be complex, but we now urge the government to work to get it in place as quickly as possible. Any help that the MU can give in this process will be readily offered”.

Paul Pacifico, CEO of The Association Of Independent Music: “We applaud the government’s speed and willingness in its efforts to support the most vulnerable at this time. Alongside our industry partners, it’s great to see that the independent music community’s voice has been heard, and made a difference in calling for support for the self-employed. Now we must make sure that these measures are accessible and implemented as rapidly as possible”.

Geoff Taylor, CEO of the BPI: “A large number of the creatives and those who work across the music community are self-employed. We applaud the Chancellor for acting swiftly to bring in a safety net of cash grants during this period of crisis. Although the grants will be backdated to cover the three months to May, money will not start to hit bank accounts until June, so we hope that government can help to ensure those who need it have simple access to appropriate overdraft or loan facilities”.