The Society of Authors has welcomed the Creative Freelancers report, issued this week by the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), saying several of its recommendations will "chime very strongly" with members who are often "left out in the cold" in comparison with their publishing counterparts, despite being a "lynchpin" of the creative industries. However, the trade body called it "a real shame" that poor industry practices were not wholly addressed by the investigation.
The SoA praised the CIF's call for better representation for freelancers at government level, its suggestion of a one-stop shop for support and advice for freelances, and its request for short-term relief grants for the self-employed. However, it was disappointed the recommendations didn't go far enough to tackle issues such as late payment of freelancers, unpaid work or address "rights grabs", where freelances are asked to sign over all their IP rights.
While welcoming CIF deputy chief executive Harriet Finney's committment to "raise these concerns with its members and industry partners, and champion the importance of freelancers to the sector as well as to government", the SoA's c.e.o. Solomon said creative freelances suffer from lack of bargaining and negotiating power against those who use their services, often resulting in unequal deals, which the report did not cover.
"It is a real shame that poor industry practices were not wholly addressed in the CIF report despite the fact these were clearly evidenced by the research gathered," said Solomon.
"...Creative freelances suffer from lack of bargaining and negotiating power against those who use their services, often resulting in unequal deals. As well as legislation we would suggest encouragement of collective negotiations to provide codes of practice and minimum terms to protect all freelances and ensure that they are fairly rewarded, properly credited, that they can share in the success of their work and reclaim rights that are not being exploited."
The SoA agreed with CIF's advice to make self-employment across all sectors part of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) ministerial brief, saying this would have a "positive impact", if carried out consistently, especially as freelance creators can be "almost invisible" ("and authors more than most"). "Research into upcoming legislation all too often misses the impact it will have on self-employed people, regardless of discipline," said Solomon.
She added she would like to see the department look at issues in the value chain because creators were not being "sufficiently rewarded" for their input.
"With average author earnings estimated at £12,500, we agree that a benefits system that is fit for freelancers is vital," said Solomon. "Government urgently needs to find ways to adapt existing systems, such as Universal Credit, to work more sensitively for self-employed earners with uncertain incomes."
Following concerns raised by many freelances about the burden of submitting quarterly tax returns, the government announced last week it is scaling back on the ambition of its Making Tax Digital programme. It now only expects self-employed people earning over the VAT threshold of £85,000 to keep digital records and report quarterly from 2019, although all will be expected to make the change eventually ("at a pace that is right for them") choosing for themselves when to move to the new digital system.
Mel Stride, financial secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General said of the changes: "We have listened very carefully to their concerns and are making changes so that we can bring the tax system into the digital age in a way that is right for all businesses."
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