Government urged to value 'vital' creative freelancers

Government urged to value 'vital' creative freelancers

The Creative Industries Federation has published a new report advising a range of practical recommendations to improve the working lives of freelancers, whom it argues are "vital but undervalued” in the creative industries.

The document, released today (17th July), calls for the government to recognise the importance of the creative freelance workforce and to support it by providing funding for accreditation courses, short-term relief grants and help during quarterly tax returns. The Federation has also asked the government to help provide affordable workspace for the self-employed, allow long-term visas for creative freelancers and urged it to take the workforce to be "into account" during Brexit negotiations.

Freelancers account for a huge 47% of the creative sector's workforce, the report found, in comparison to 15% across the rest of the UK, and those people play an “integral” role contributing to the success of the creative industries, the fastest growing sector of the UK economy. 

Policy recommendations include making self employment part of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) ministerial brief, meaning an individual would have cross-departmental responsibility for making sure new policies made sense for the freelancers.

It also asks the government to support a creative careers campaign delivered by the Creative Industries Federation, primarily targeting young people, which would explain through UK-wide advertising “how the creative sector really works and the opportunities within it”.

The document, which draws on evidence from 700 freelancers and 50 organisations that use them, urged the government to "take into account" the importance of the freelance workforce when reviewing freedom of movement in the European Union as part of its Brexit negotiations.

It also demanded reform of the immigration system to allow long-term visas for creative freelancers. There is currently no visa for creative freelancers, except for those who qualify as “exceptional talent”, which it seeks to move beyond. “The fact that highly-skilled freelancers have no obvious route into the UK could become a major problem post-Brexit,” the document said. “Currently non-UK EU workers make up 6.1% of the creative industries workforce as a whole.” 

Harriet Finney, deputy director of the Creative Industries Federation, said: “The Creative Freelancers report aims to kickstart a proper examination of the creative freelance workforce and encourage government to act to improve the conditions of their working lives. Government needs to better understand what these workers do so that it can consider the implications of any changes to policy.”    

Almost all authors are freelance and many are paid “very little”, the Federation noted, referencing the July 2015 study on authors’ remuneration, which showed only half could view writing as they’re main source of income, with average annual salaries coming to about £12,500. Freelancers in publishing would like help with legal advice and support for issues including piracy. One author surveyed requested an easy reporting system so sites selling pirated goods can be blocked. 

The report's authors recommended a “business booster network” or UK-wide virtual hub should be built to act as a one-stop shop supporting IP, finance and exports, signposting existing business advice, local support services, and facilitates peer-to-peer mentoring, and to ensure investment in accredited online courses for freelancers, including business skills.

The Federation is also seeking consideration of short-term relief grants for freelancers, underwritten by government, to tide them over during quiet periods.

It also called on the government to assess the burden on freelancers of Making Tax Digital, an issue raised by the SoA, reported in The Bookseller, at the end of last year. The system asks freelancers to fill out quarterly tax returns, which could increase accountancy costs and be very time consuming. After such as assessment, the report asks that either additional support should be provided or tax returns should revert to be annual.

Creative industries minister Matt Hancock said the government would “ensure these recommendations are considered”.

"The Federation's Creative Freelancers report provides a valuable explanation of the way freelancers work and the huge contribution they make to the UK's creative industries,” Hancock said. “The report will make an important contribution to our understanding of the creative industries labour market and we will ensure these recommendations are considered as part of our ongoing work on the Industrial Strategy and early sector deal for the Creative Industries."

Shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan agreed government policy should support  the rights of freelancers at work. “Nearly half of those working in the creative industries are freelancers so it is important that there is a policy framework that supports their rights at work.” he said. “This report considers the issues that creative freelancers themselves say need addressing, and the government should look closely at its recommendations.”

The full report is available here.