Bectu presses DCMS and Treasury for urgent support of workforce during COVID-19 pandemic

19 March 2020

Bectu is maintaining pressure on the government to put measures into place to protect the income of freelancers and the self-employed working across film, TV, theatre and the arts during the coronavirus pandemic.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs has written to the chancellor and culture secretary to highlight the specific issues that this part of the economy is dealing with.

Theatres, arts venues and organisations across the country have closed down because of advice to stop the spread of COVID-19 leaving many members literally with no source of income in the space of 48 hours.

Bectu represents over 20,000 freelancers and self-employed workers across the creative industries, including theatre, film and television. These industries have all virtually shut down in response to tackling the spread of coronavirus.

In a letter to the chancellor about film and TV, Childs outlines further emergency measures that need to be put in place to protect people who earn their incomes outside the structures of being a traditional employee.

Writing to Rishi Sunak, Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“The impact of COVID-19 on the production sector is immediate and acute and we are seeing productions being shut down daily as it is almost impossible for them to continue under current restrictions.

“We anticipate that almost all non-news production activity in film and TV will have to cease within days. These are unprecedented times and our self-employed freelancer members tell us they are not able to access many of the benefits and support available to employed workers.”

Bectu has asked for the chancellor to introduce a form of income support proportional to their recent average income through a tax rebate, as well as freelancers and the self-employed having access to the same level of sick pay as other people.

In a letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, Childs highlighted the desperate need to support those workers whose employers are almost totally reliant upon the customers – theatres, cinemas, art and community centres and warned that whilst closed to the public will lose income that will never be recovered.

Childs called for Dowden to lobby the chancellor on behalf of these organisations. She said:

“Theatre and live events are heavily reliant on zero hours contracts and casuals, most of whom are on the National Living Wage or the Real Living Wage.

“These workers are low paid and in precarious employment. We need to ensure that all theatre workers, whether permanently employed, casuals or zero hours workers, are supported and compensated during this time to ensure that they don’t fall further into poverty or lose their homes due to loss of income.”

Measures Bectu is calling the government to introduce are:

  • direct financial support for freelance and self-employed workers. This would most easily be delivered in the form of a retroactive tax rebate
  • deferment of the 31 July tax deadline and VAT deadline on 7 May, alongside the announced delay of IR35
  • interest free loans and measures to eliminate or suppress credit card interest to prevent debt spirals
  • drastic simplification of Universal Credit application processes.

Note: Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect (Bectu’s parent union) wrote to the chancellor about the financial impact of the coronavirus on freelancers on 10 March.

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