Freelancers’ top fear is how to pay the bills, finds Bectu coronavirus survey

18 March 2020

A staggering 71% of freelancers working in the creative industries are afraid they won’t be able to pay their bills because of the work they have lost due to coronavirus, a Bectu survey of 5,600 people has found.

The survey closed on Monday 16 March at 6pm before widespread social distancing was recommended by the government to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Loss of income

Nearly 3,000 (46%) respondents had already lost money as a result of the virus.

From 1,500 respondents who came back to us in detail:

  • 456 reported already losing over £5,000
  • 457 reported losing £2,000-£5,000
  • 591 said they had lost up to £2000.

Many reported that estimates for future loss of earnings were difficult because of the uncertainty about the length of potential disruption. However, 131 people said they were facing losing over £40,000, 437 said they could lose £20,000-40,000 and 783 people said they may lose up to £20,000.

83% of those who took part reported themselves as freelancers working across TV, film, live tours, theatres, art galleries and art studios.

Theatre workers

Theatre workers have been dramatically affected by the government advice. At the time of the survey 36% called for Bectu to lobby the government for pay if public events are banned while 31% asked for sick pay that covers self-isolation.

These findings show that theatre workers, many of whom work on casual contracts and zero-hours contracts, had already anticipated the measures the government introduced later in the week and were aware of the precarious situation they are in.

Film and TV crew

Film and TV crew also highlighted that they need sick pay to cover periods of self-isolation. 50% of those working on major films, 46% of those working in TV drama and 40% of those working in factual TV asked for Bectu to lobby on this point.

What we’re calling for

Bectu is calling for the government to take immediate action to create a meaningful safety net for those who have lost all their work and income because of coronavirus.

The measures Bectu is calling for include:

  • 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 31st July tax deadline and VAT deadline on 7 May, alongside the announced delay of IR35
  • rent holidays alongside the announced mortgage holidays
  • interest free loans and measures to eliminate or supress credit card interest to prevent debt spirals
  • drastic simplification of Universal Credit application processes.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“Bectu can’t emphasise enough how urgently we need the government to act. This survey started just after the Budget announcement. We have since had another update from the Chancellor but still nothing for freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts.

“These people have literally seen their income stream disappear in the space of a few days. They pay their taxes without fail, contribute to a thriving sector of the economy and don’t have the structure of an employer.

“The government can’t ignore them any longer. Just like those who are employed and receive salaries, freelancers also have families to feed and must pay the bills to keep a roof over their heads.

“The government must make sure any further protections put in place cover the entire economy’s workforce.”

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In these worrying times, we’re stronger together. Bectu is here to campaign for freelancers in the creative industries and will do so now more than ever.
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