Universal Credit campaign update – four-week rule

Last week the Government rushed through Parliament a major change to Universal Credit that could unfairly affect our members and creative practitioners.

The new four-week rule

Under the changed rules, new claimants now have just four weeks to look for their usual line of work instead of three months. After this period, claimants will be forced to look for work outside of their preferred occupation or sector and those who do not comply could find their benefit suspended for periods of up to 26 weeks. Please read our updated advice page for more information. This is the latest move by the government that risks pushing many Equity members into financial hardship and reforming Universal Credit (UC) remains a priority for the union following our last campaigning update (October 2020).

Note that this new rule won’t apply to you if you are found to be ‘gainfully self-employed’ but that would mean in due course that you are subject to the ‘minimum income floor’ which we are also lobbying to change.

What is Equity doing to support our members?

We are very concerned that four weeks is an unreasonably short timescale, and this measure will prejudice performers and creative practitioner whose work is by its very nature intermittent and unpredictable intermittent, unpredictable and precarious. This is particularly true for Equity members starting out in their career who have not yet had the opportunity to build a portfolio and establish networks within the industry.

The need to maintain a young and diverse talent pool is integral to the success of the arts and entertainment industry. After undergoing lengthy and arduous professional training, it is vital that our welfare system does not compel members to abandon their profession and take unsuitable jobs due to financial pressures.

That is why Equity is taking action:

  • We have secured a meeting with senior government officials to discuss this troubling development.
  • We are calling for this new rule to be reversed and we will be making a strong case that work coaches should be given more powers to exercise their discretion on work search and work availability requirements in accordance with individual circumstances.
  • We will also challenge any suggestion from policymakers that working in the arts is not valued profession and that claimants should seek alternatives from the outset.

Alongside this, we will continue to lobby for other pragmatic changes to UC. This includes our ongoing campaign to abolish the Minimum Income Floor, which again disproportionately impacts our members with unpredictable earnings and is leaving them without support in the months they need it most.

Our priority is to reform the structure of UC and resolve the ongoing disparity of treatment between the employed and self-employed, which we fear was entrenched further by the four-week rule.

What can you do to get involved?

Our tax and welfare team are monitoring the situation very closely and we will be feeding this back to government as part of our ongoing dialogue with political decision makers.

But to strengthen our influencing work, we need to hear directly from members affected. This includes anyone who has been sanctioned or has found that they have not being given four weeks to look for their usual work. Please contact our Tax and Benefits Helpline on 020 7670 0223 or email helpline@equity.org.uk. They can also provide you with advice and support if this, or any other benefits issues, are affecting you.