Self-employed creatives 'cannot wait three months to be paid', government warned

Self-employed creatives 'cannot wait three months to be paid', government warned

The Creative Industries Federation has said interim relief for self-employed workers from the government must be made "immediately accessible" as "a matter of urgency", ahead of the timeline of the beginning of June, as freelancers in creative industries struggle to pay their bills now. The Society of Authors has also called for greater clarity over what the Chancellor's scheme means for authors with portfolio careers.

Freelancers who participated in The Bookseller's survey on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak said that work was clearly "drying up". One freelance publicist described cash-flow being "a major concern", as several of their upcoming campaigns have been postponed indefinitely or shifted to autumn publication dates. Another said: "I have almost nothing to do, as my customers have mostly closed." 

Both the Creative Industries Federation and the Society of Authors welcomed Rishi Sunak’s Thursday night statement (27th March) that promised grants from the government will pay self-employed workers 80% of their average profits—up to £2,500 a month—for three months. Starting in June, it covers "95% of people who make most of their income from self-employment", according to Sunak.

Caroline Norbury, c.e.o. of the Creative Industries Federation, described the measures as “a victory for the creative industries” following its open letter to the Chancellor in the same week. "The income of freelancers up and down the country is at immediate risk, threatening their ability to keep their businesses alive and cover basic living costs like rent, bills and food," the letter had stressed. 

However, Norbury said June was too long to wait and the relief must be "immediately accessible".

"We now must ensure that this package is comprehensive and interim relief is immediately accessible," she said. "A third of the UK’s creative workforce are self-employed – more than double the national average of 15%. Many of these workers had 100% of their work cancelled overnight due to the impact of Covid-19.

"Although the measures announced today are welcome, it is vital that they are implemented as a matter of urgency, and certainly much quicker than the proposed timeline of June—two months later than those on payroll. Self-employed workers have outgoings and business expenses due immediately, which £94.25 a week in Universal Credit payments simply will not cover. They cannot wait three months to be paid. It is vital that government implements an interim basic income for the self-employed, until the scheme is fully operational."

Norbury added "urgent clarity" is needed for creative workers "who may be most in need and fall between these schemes”, such as those who started self-employment after April 2019, recent graduates, those paid in dividends, temporary workers and short-term contractors normally paid by PAYE. “We must ensure that these packages are truly comprehensive and accessible to all," she said.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors, likewise called for greater clarity, having already said authors are enduring "unmanageable losses—some seeing thousands of pounds worth of lost contracts in a single day". She said, although the Chancellor’s income support for self-employed workers should "help many authors and other freelancers, if administered correctly", the scheme needs to provide "much more detail" so people know where they stand and quickly.

"Much more detail is now needed so that we can better understand how the scheme will be administered and how our members stand to be affected," said Solomon. "As we all continue to adapt fast to a health crisis so full of uncertainty, we need to ensure there is as much certainty as possible in such a practical and tangible area as financial support.

"In particular, self-employed workers are being asked to wait to be contacted by HMRC, who will identify from past records whether they are eligible. While some will be able to see immediately that they are eligible for support based on the criteria set out, many will not have that certainty. And since no payments will be made until June, many will need to know what interim support will be available until then. It is simply not clear what the scheme proposed means for authors with portfolio careers who earn a portion of their income from self-employment and the rest through PAYE and how the schemes for self-employed and employed people interrelate."

The Society of Authors is taking part in a conference call this afternoon (Monday 30th March) with government minister Paul Scully to discuss the measures to help self-employed workers during the coronavirus outbreak, as part of which it will be asking for clarity on these and other points. 

In the meantime, SoA is continuing to receive and process the "many" applications to the Authors’ Emergency Fund that it has been receiving since it launched on 20th March.

Creative Scotland has also launched three funding programmes to provide further support to the country's creative community during the outbreak, ackowledging many have been deeply impacted and disadvantaged by the cancellation of work due to the coronavirus emergency. There is: a "Bridging Bursaries Fund" of £2 million offering one-off bursary payments of between £500 and £2,500 to help support the immediate needs – applications to the fund open today (30th March); a "Screen Scotland Bridging Bursary" programme of £1.5 million providing one-off bursaries of £500 to £2,500 to freelance PAYE and self-employed screen sector workers – applications open today (30th March); and an "Open Funding: Sustaining Creative Development" fund of £7.5m to allow creative practitioners to continue to develop work for up to 12 months with a maximum award of £50,000 – applications open on 3rd April.  

"These are extremely challenging times that have brought serious personal and professional impacts to artists, creative practitioners and organisations and the work they do with communities across Scotland," Iain Munro, chief executive of Creative Scotland said. "At Creative Scotland our focus is to keep funding flowing. These funds direct our resources to those in need of immediate support and help to safeguard and sustain the sector and its work at this time. When we all emerge from this crisis, it will undoubtedly be to a changed world, but one I hope where culture and creativity remain at the heart of the life of the nation."

Freelancers make up 33% of workers in the creative industries, according to the Creative Industries Federation and the SoA—more than double the 15% of self-employed people in the economy as a whole.