UPDATED 09.40AM with broadcaster letter: British chancellor Rishi Sunak is preparing a coronavirus rescue package for 5M self-employed people in the UK — a move that will throw a life-line to thousands of freelancers in the entertainment industries.
Sunak is expected to outline the measures at a press briefing on Thursday after saying this week that he is “determined to find a way to support” Britain’s freelance community.
According to reports in British newspapers, the measures introduced in the UK could be similar to those put in place in Scandanavia, where freelancers are being handed 80% of their average monthly income, calculated using past tax returns.
The freelance financial stimulus follows the British government stepping in last week to pay salaries. It guaranteed to pay 80% of wages for people in permanent jobs but not working because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There has been intense lobbying by creative industry groups, including unions Bectu and Equity, for similar support to be offered to people who are self-employed. This included 7,000 freelancers writing to their MPs to demand help, while actors including Richard E Grant and David Tennant joined the campaign by signing a petition.
On Wednesday afternoon, the UK’s major public service broadcasters — the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 — wrote to the chancellor adding their voice to the cause.
“We are writing to you as the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters, to ask you to support the critically important freelance community of the UK creatives industries,” they said in a letter.
“We are willing to engage with the government to help you identify a package of measures that would provide for a level of income protection and access to statutory sick pay for the freelance community in our industry as a matter of urgency.”
Deadline spoke to three television freelancers about their need for financial assistance after huge swathes of British production was shut down or postponed. “The government does owe us some support. Perhaps we don’t have as loud a voice as large corporate entities. People need to appreciate what we do,” said cameraman Ian French.
Below is the British broadcasters’ full letter to the government:
We are writing to you as the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters, to ask you to support the critically important freelance community of the UK creatives industries.
As you will know, the UK creative industries now contribute over £100bn to the UK economy. The UK film and television production sectors are a vital and growing area of the UK (growing at five times the rate of the UK economy as a whole). Of the creative workers in film and TV, 50% of those engaged in screen production are freelancers, so it is true to say that the global success and reputation of the UK creative industries depends on them.
The very nature of the freelance community is that they do not have a single anchor employer; they work for the industry as a whole across TV and film, which makes them particularly vulnerable in current circumstances and therefore worthy of government support. We are aware of the communication that you have received from various trade bodies and unions representing the freelance sector in the UK creatives industries and we would also urge the Government to take measures to protect the long term health of the UK creative industries, by providing a package of support to freelancers.
We are willing to engage with the Government to help you identify a package of measures that would provide for a level of income protection and access to statutory sick pay for the freelance community in our industry as a matter of urgency.
We are copying the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden MP.
The Public Service Broadcasters look forward to working with you on this vital issue.
Tony Hall (Director-General, BBC)
Carolyn McCall (CEO, ITV)
Alex Mahon (CEO, Channel 4)
Maria Kyriacou (President, UK and Australia, Viacom CBS Networks International)
Owen Evans (CEO, S4C)