In the face of Covid uncertainty, Equity General Secretary calls for benefits reform to protect performers and creative workers

This week saw the hopeful reopening of performance venues and events, with workers and audiences alike delighted by the return of live acts. Yet this comes alongside concerns about the new Covid-19 variant and the prospect of rising infection rates. 
 
With there being the possibility of renewed restrictions, Equity General Secretary, Paul W Fleming, has called for "the Government to consolidate the broken benefits system" to protect the performing arts and entertainment industry and its workers. 
 
In a statement - in full below - he says, "A basic income guarantee is the only way forward to ensure that the precarious freelance workforce which underpins the creative economy – worth more to the UK than banking – can survive the difficult months and years ahead."
 
A basic income guarantee would mean offering all creative workers a monthly payment, whether they are in work or not, during and after the pandemic. Over 40% of Equity members were excluded from both furlough and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), for reasons such as doing too much work on PAYE, being newly self-employed or taking time off to have children or care for others. And for many creative workers, the pandemic has only exacerbated long-standing issues such as low pay, job insecurity and a lack of diversity in the industry.
 
There is momentum on basic income policies (not limited to creatives), with Wales recently announcing a pilot scheme and most parties in Scotland, including the SNP, behind the idea. Elsewhere, the Irish government is examining a recommendation won by our sister union to introduce a basic income scheme for creatives while France's similar system​ dates back to the 1930s. This year, multiple basic income trials are taking place across the world, leading Bloomberg to claim "2021 Will Be the Year of Guaranteed Income Experiments​".

Paul has also called for the Government to insure live performance venues to protect them from the risk of possible restrictions.​


Statement from Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming in full:

"For the creative workforce, there’s an equal mix of hope and anxiety about the Government’s roadmap. Some live performance venues have tentatively reopened, but face huge setbacks if lockdowns are reimposed – either locally or nationally – due to the new variant or rates of infection once again rising. 
 
"While the health and safety of the population is paramount and further restrictions may be necessary, the industry and its workers cannot weather these without proper financial support from the Government, which has – so far and from the onset of the pandemic – been woefully lacking. 

"Many venues are planning larger scale safe reopening in June, but the vagueness on how the timetable is being reviewed, and the options being considered, is hampering that effort. To aid confidence in the industry, those in power must be transparent and offer to insure live performance. 

"Most importantly, however, it's time for the Government to consolidate the broken benefits system and bring in the 40% of Equity members completely excluded from furlough and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, and the thousands of others who have received pennies. A basic income guarantee is the only way forward to ensure that the precarious freelance workforce which underpins the creative economy – worth more to the UK than banking – can survive the difficult months and years ahead. 

"This isn't just a question of good economics, but is fundamentally about who our society believes has the right to be an artist or entertainer; who is allowed to be creative. The pandemic of precarity can't go on. A simple reopening is not the whole answer."