As actors, we are used to having to fend for ourselves and not asking for help. Work, no work, low-paid work, no work.
It was therefore no surprise when the government’s initial aid left us feeling let down, as part of a whole sector they ignored – the self-employed.
The outcry was understandably strong. The government has spent the past 10 years encouraging people into self-employment to save employers giving them any workers’ rights, security, sick pay or holiday pay.
When chancellor Rishi Sunak finally stepped up to the lectern several weeks ago to outline measures for self-employed people, what a fine figure he made. Good eye contact, nice pauses, a genuine sense of authority – it was almost impossible not to like him, oiled in privilege though he is. Here was the rest of the rescue package. We held our breath.
As the dust has settled, people have had a chance to analyse it and ask: has it really helped those in our sector who need it most?
Last week, the Institute of Fiscal studies estimated that 1.3 million people won’t benefit because they get more than 50% of their income from sources other than self-employment. Working actors, I think we call them. Also, 225,000 would be ineligible because their profits exceeded £50,000 a year. A small percentage of actors there. A further 650,000 don’t qualify as they started their business after April 2019. That’s anybody graduating last year. A total of 2 million people will receive no help.
And then there is the delay in payments. June is an easy word for Sunak to say, but not easy to hear if you have no work or income. A 10-week wait? Even casting directors get back to you quicker.
Let’s face it – what we’d all like is a way out of this, but the government can’t give us that. At the moment, it can’t even give us any continuity in leadership. More people have mounted the 5pm press conference podium in the last week than have played Tracy Barlow in Coronation Street.
The government did give out financial help and that is laudable, but now it seriously has to look into areas such as the arts and creative media to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks. And until they do – and judging by the testing fiasco that may take some time – we need to help ourselves.
We’ve read about the number of West End performers who are now stacking shelves in supermarkets. Well done, they’re helping and earning money. That’s what we all need to do. Give whatever we can. Help others in our world. And let’s not be afraid of asking for that help wherever we can.
Surveys have shown that theatre attendances are much higher than for the Premier League. Yet some football clubs are furloughing back office staff while continuing to pay players huge wages. Just think of how many young actors Harry Kane could support with one week of his salary. And I’m sure he’d prefer that rather than see them kicked into touch.
Paul Clayton is an actor, director and author. Read more of his columns at the thestage.co.uk/author/paul-clayton/