Entertainment unions including Equity, BECTU and the Musicians’ Union have issued a joint call on the government to provide an income guarantee for freelance and self-employed workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
Their calls follow findings from BECTU that more than 70% of freelance workers are worried they will not be able to pay bills because of the outbreak. MP Tracy Brabin also warned that a generation of working-class talent could be lost because of a lack of support for freelance workers.
Equity, BECTU and the MU are all part of the Federation of Entertainment Unions, which represents more than 100,000 people working in the entertainment and creative industries, including actors, journalists, theatre workers, musicians, writers, entertainers, production crew, directors and designers.
In a statement, the federation said: “We don’t know for how long our workplaces will be closed or how many will re-open. A huge number of us are freelance and self-employed workers and have no prospect of alternative employment in the coming months.”
It warned that the majority of freelances are not eligible for statutory sick pay if they are unable to work because of the virus, and have “recourse only to Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit”.
“These welfare benefits are for those on low or zero incomes, and unsuitable for those who make a living from self-employment. The system is complex and time-consuming, and as it is means-tested those with savings are ineligible. Most freelances keep money aside to pay for their tax bill and other contingencies,” it said.
“We urgently need the government to step in and help us at this time. The UK’s creative industries are a massive success story and have been a key driver of economic growth, contributing £100 billion-plus to the UK economy. We call on the government to introduce an income guarantee for freelance and self-employed workers for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak,” it added.
The Federation of Entertainment Unions comprises BECTU, Equity, the Musicians’ Union, the National Union of Journalists and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.