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Over 120 organisations call on government to extend freelancer support for creative sector

By | Published on Thursday 20 August 2020


More than 120 organisations representing the UK creative industries have signed an open letter to Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak calling for the government’s freelancer-centric COVID support scheme to be extended for those who are still unable to return to work because of measures still in place to combat the virus. A failure to do so, they say, “risks an exodus of talent and a sudden decline”.

The UK government’s schemes that provide financial support to employees and freelancers unable to work because of the COVID-19 shutdown are now in the process of winding down, with applications for the second and final round of freelancer grants opening this week. However, many in the creative industries – and especially those involved in live performance – are unlikely to be anywhere near back to normal in work terms this autumn.

Focusing on the many freelancers that work in the creative industries, and the freelancer support scheme SEISS, the open letter to Sunak writes: “Actors, musicians, dancers, singers, stage management, variety acts, creative team members and other freelancers have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Many of them have lost all their scheduled work from March 2020 on into 2021, leaving them in severe financial hardship”.

“The SEISS has helped some creative professionals get through these challenging times”, it goes on “but it is due to come to an end very shortly, which presents serious problems for the health of our sector”.

The letter acknowledges that indoor live performances are now allowed again in England providing social distancing rules are in force. It also notes the £1.57 billion in funding specifically allocated to creative and heritage businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID. But, it says, major challenges remain.

“Socially distanced indoor live performances can now take place”, it says. “However, the difficulties venues will face in covering costs with reduced income from tickets, audience uncertainty, and the time it takes for venues to schedule and prepare, means that over the coming months the number of live performances taking place will be some way short of what it was pre-COVID-19”.

It continues: “With a return to full live indoor performances unlikely to happen in the near future, the earnings potential for creatives across the sector will be severely curtailed for at least the rest of this year”.

“The recently announced £1.57 billion arts support package is extremely welcome and will undoubtedly help many venues and performing arts organisations”, it adds “but there is no indication yet as to what will be available to the freelance workforce. Freelancers make up approximately one third of the creative industries workforce, and in the case of musicians, performers and the creative team, the majority”.

With all that in mind, the letter states, “we are requesting that you extend government support for freelancers working in the performing arts and entertainment industries from the end of the SEISS until the spring of 2021 to provide vital support for the many thousands of creative professionals who still cannot work because of COVID-19. Without this, our sector risks an exodus of talent and a sudden decline”.

The letter also references the fact that some freelancers haven’t even been able to access SEISS. “Many have been inadequately covered”, it says, adding that “new graduates, international artists, parents and carers, and working class artists have disproportionately missed out on any support”.

It then goes on: “However, even those who are eligible for the second payment will only be covered by the scheme until August. From September onwards, every single freelance creative will be without government financial support and unlikely to be able to return to their work in full. This will be devastating for them, and for the industry”.

“The majority of musicians earn less than £20,000 per year – well below UK average earnings – and the same is true of actors, variety artists, stage management, creative team members, singers and dancers”, it then explains.

“Without further targeted government support for freelancers, many of our most talented creatives will be forced – because of circumstances beyond their control – to leave their professions. This would be all our loss as well as theirs”.

The letter concludes: “We need a new scheme for our sector in its unique circumstance which covers all of its freelance artists, no matter what their career or background. Our organisations have multiple cost-efficient solutions for how such support can be given, and we extend an open invitation to engage with us on closing the gaps and securing our multi-billion pound sector of the economy”.

Companies, trade bodies and organisations from across the wider creative industries have signed the letter, including all of the ten core members of UK Music, ie AIM, BPI, FAC, The Ivors Academy, MPA, MPG, MMF, MU, PRS and PPL. Meanwhile, the whole thing was coordinated by the Incorporated Society Of Musicians and actors union Equity.

Commenting on the letter, ISM boss Deborah Annetts says: “Many of the ISM’s members are in despair. From full time gigging musicians to top flight opera singers, they have had no work since March and are without any prospect of work”.

“The reality of socially distanced performances means that most venues simply cannot afford to re-open leaving the vast majority of musicians without work”, she adds. “Musicians are in desperate financial difficulty. Some are leaving the profession while others are working as delivery drivers to make ends meet. This is not the way to look after our talented musician workforce”.

“We call on the government to put in place a tailored financial support scheme for the self-employed creative workforce, who are the lifeblood of the performing arts until venues can properly re-open”, she goes on. “If the government does not support actors, musicians and technicians until they can work again in those venues, then we are looking at the devastation of the performing arts and an exodus of highly skilled talent”.

Meanwhile, Paul Fleming from Equity states: “Equity’s members are heading toward a cliff edge with a parachute full of holes. The SEISS excluded some of the lowest-paid and most under-represented self-employed artists from the beginning, and now it’s going to be ripped away from even those who were covered”.

“Taxpayers are seeing their money used to shutter buildings instead of supporting artists they love and funding safe reopening”, he concludes. “Unless the government introduces meaningful income support for our members until re-opening and beyond, we’ll barely have a workforce left”.