28 October 2021
Universal Credit (UC) has been at the very centre of Equity’s lobbying strategy and recent political debate. Huge swathes of the creative workforce accessed our social security system for the first time during the pandemic and still rely on UC to stay in the industry. Crucially, the £20 UC uplift introduced last year was a vital safety net, which helped many Equity members avoid destitution.
That is why we launched a campaign to oppose the government’s divisive plan to withdraw the £20 uplift. At a time when our industry is still recovering, the Conservative Party was taking money away from those at risk of falling below the poverty line. This decision also directly undermined the Culture Secretary’s commitment to level up opportunities in the arts and break the creative class divide.
We would like to thank every Equity member who mobilised and contributed to this campaign, helping raise awareness of the potentially devastating consequences. Over 900 Equity members lobbied their local MP and made their voices heard. As a result, over half of all 650 MPs were contacted across every political party.
Despite our tireless lobbying efforts, the government refused to reinstate the uplift, which is extremely disappointing. However, the collective pressure of Equity members alongside other unions and campaigning bodies did not go unnoticed.
At the budget this week the government announced a concession by reducing the taper rate - the amount of UC withdrawn for every pound someone earns - from 63p to 55p. It would mean over two million working age benefit claimants would keep 45p of their maximum UC award for every pound earned rather than 37p. This measure will be introduced before 1 December 2021. More information can be found on our website about how the budget will affect you.
Reducing the UC taper rate was a necessary measure. However, the reality is that this will only benefit those in work whilst the standard allowances within UC remain unchanged. This has to be seen in the context of out of work benefits being at their lowest level in real terms in 30 years for those not working or unable to work because of illness, caring responsibilities, and other factors. Crucially, the fundamental problems the self-employed experience with UC remain unchanged.
Calling for better support for freelancers
Following the budget announcement, Equity wrote to the Minister for Employment Mims Davies MP calling for urgent reform to better support the freelance workforce. Our Lead Tax & Welfare Rights Official Alan Lean reminded the government that the reintroduction of the Minimum Income Floor will have an extremely negative impact on the self-employed with variable income, who are the bulk of our members.
We also highlighted the hugely unequal treatment of the employed and self-employed in relation to work search requirements. For example, a single claimant seeking employed work who earns more than £345 a month on average would not usually be expected to look for other work. In stark contrast if you are “gainfully self-employed” you don’t need to look for other work but you are assumed to have an income of approximately £1,300 a month irrespective of your actual income. This may mean you have nil income one month but get very little or no UC because of the assumed income. So the freedom from work search comes at a very high price.
We will continue to lobby the government to make meaningful improvements to our social security system to better support Equity members and the wider self-employed workforce. More information will follow in the coming weeks about what more you can do to take action.