Bectu, the UK union of creative industry workers, is today asking all of the country’s freelancers to put urgent pressure on their government representatives requesting financial support during the coronavirus pandemic. The body said it received more than 100 contacts from members over the weekend outlining their concerns.
UK PM Boris Johnson announced on Friday (March 20) that the government would take the extraordinary measure of paying up to 80% of employees’ wages for those earning up to £30,000 ($34,700) per year, if they are kept on by an employer, during the disruption. That came as large-scale employers such as theater chain Cineworld began laying people off while their venues are shuttered.
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Though the move was welcomed, freelancers were left disappointed not to have been included in the proposal. Currently, government advise is for people out of work to claim Universal Credit, which equates to £94 ($109) per week, a much smaller amount than what can be claimed by employers for staff.
Also today, a group of economists published an open letter to UK chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for immediate support for freelancer workers.
“We are writing to insist that the government goes significantly further in its economic response to the Covid-19 crisis. We welcome the support for the employed, but the self-employed have been left out in the cold. They must be supported immediately: existing institutions such as HMRC should be used to deploy funds to this group,” the letter read.
“Further, the chancellor’s job retention scheme must mandate against any layoffs with immediate effect. There is a risk that many firms will let staff go in the days ahead. In order to receive wage subsidies firms must keep all staff on payroll. Finally, the universal credit system will be unable to cope with all of the newly unemployed or underemployed. All means-testing must be removed to speed up the claims process.
“Economic collapses become increasingly difficult to arrest if they are allowed to continue unabated. There is a real risk that this recession could turn into a depression. The government must move decisively to get cash into the hands of households and firms before the economic dominoes start to fall,” it stated.
With film and TV productions shutdown across the country, many of the industry’s freelancer workers are out of employment. As we reported, most major productions are offering between two and four weeks’ of pay after closing sets, but there is no clear timeline on when production might get up and running again.
Bectu estimates that around 50,000 UK industry freelancers are already out of work. A survey published last week stated that nearly 3,000 of the union’s members were already out of pocket.
“Bectu urges anyone who is worried about their financial prospects to contact their MP immediately and outline why the current government financial package is not good enough. Bectu will be making a submission to the treasury select committee about why freelancers are falling through the net. We will also be working with other organisations with similar concerns to continue pushing for appropriate financial protection during these unprecedented times,” said Philippa Childs.
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