An entire generation of working-class talent could be lost because of a lack of support for freelance workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, the shadow culture secretary has claimed, as others warn of the “financial ruin” facing self-employed creative workers.
Labour MP Tracy Brabin said she was “dismayed” by the government’s failure to introduce relief for freelances in its early packages of emergency coronavirus measures.
It is estimated that around a third of the UK’s creative workforce is freelance.
Describing the freelance workforce as the “lifeblood” of the creative industries, Brabin said: “Covid-19 could drive a generation of working-class talent out of our sector. All options should be on the table including a temporary universal basic income.”
In a separate letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak, Brabin also suggested cancelling tax payments and diverting budget allocated for a planned 2022 Festival of Britain to a targeted coronavirus relief fund for the creative industries.
The Festival of Britain, intended to celebrate the cultural life of the UK and Northern Ireland following Brexit, has a stated budget of £120 million.
It comes as the UK’s freelance workforce gets some respite from government, thanks to a delay to intended tax reform due to come into force next month.
It had been warned that the changes, legislation known as IR35, could have led to self-employed people paying more tax than employees but without the benefits of holiday and sick pay.
Philippa Childs, head of the union BECTU, said the union had been lobbying for a delay to IR35 for some time but the situation had been amplified by the coronavirus crisis.
While welcoming the changes, she called on the government to “do more to specifically support freelances and the self-employed who are facing extremely challenging and uncertain times”.
“Further measures need to be introduced to ensure that freelances who facing their entire livelihoods being wiped out are not left in financial ruin,” she said.
These could include help for renters, interest-free tax back loans and suspending interest to credit cards.
Elsewhere, a Creative Industries Federation survey conducted this week, which attracted more than 2,000 responses, found that more than half (54%) of respondents expected their income to fall by 50% of more in the fallout.
Chief executive Caroline Norbury said government measures to alleviate this were “desperately needed”.
She welcomed the announcement of a £330 billion loan fund, business rates relief and small-scale grants for businesses, but added: “It is now vital that government ensures these business support measures are available as a matter of urgency, and that they are made truly accessible to creative and cultural organisations.”