Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under renewed pressure to extend a funding scheme for employed and freelance workers, with creative industry unions warning entertainment workers face a “financial cliff edge” without it.
The unions’ call comes as a group of peers from the House of Lords also asks the government to provide more support for the self-employed working in the sector.
In a joint letter, BECTU, Equity, the Creative Industries Federation and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed urge the chancellor to extend the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme until October. This would bring it in line with its furloughing scheme.
“In recent weeks, we have heard growing concerns from self-employed individuals who, although supportive of the funding provided by SEISS, now fear a financial cliff-edge if it is not extended. As you are aware, the SEISS made grant funding available to eligible applicants for three months covering up to the end of May 2020,” the letter states.
It adds: “We recognise that the scheme cannot run indefinitely and there needs to be a reasonable debate over how it will be unwound over time. However, we believe that given the employee Job Retention Scheme will now run until October 31, 2020, a similar principle should be adopted for SEISS – it should also be extended."
The letter highlights groups that have fallen through the cracks of government help and urges more support for them.
“We would urge you to look again at those who miss out and consider options for how they can be brought into support,” it states, including allowing the newly self-employed to file an early 2019/20 tax return so that they can access the SEISS, and that “freelancers operating through short-term PAYE contracts are able to qualify for SEISS also”.
“To return to economic growth, the UK will need these flexible, entrepreneurial workers. The government should invest in them now in their time of need, so that they are ready to rebound quickly once the country begins to return to economic health,” it states.
Meanwhile, a group of peers from the House of Lords has written to the government asking for more support for the self-employed.
A letter from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee states the peers are “concerned that Covid-19 has had an acute impact on the performing arts, with 70% of artists and craftspeople who support the performing arts being self-employed”.
“The committee understands that the government is further considering the eligibility criteria for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. As part of this consideration, we would like to emphasise the impact on the performing arts of the scheme’s cap, the short duration of the scheme, and the limited funds available to those who ho have recently taken parental or adoption leave,” they write.
The letter also warns that the pandemic could “also lead to longer term, more structural issues for the performing arts”.
“A prolonged pandemic may emphasise barriers facing historically underrepresented groups, for reasons of class, ethnic background or disability. Similarly, performing arts education is suffering as a result of school closures,” the letter adds.
It calls on the government to outline plans it has for “sustaining and improving diversity and inclusion within the performing arts, and for maintaining arts education during the pandemic”.