The financial cost of COVID-19 on freelancers

17 March 2020

Bectu represents over 20,000 people working as freelancers in the creative industries. These include people who are self-employed, causal workers and those who are on zero-hours contracts.

The spread of COVID-19 has seen huge swathes of the industry close down, from TV productions being postponed to theatres going dark, leaving workers in a financially vulnerable position during this pandemic.

Many do not know how long they will be out of work for or how they should proceed during this crisis. Here some of our members explain how it has been affecting them.

Sarah Dillon

“I work around the world freelancing for the film industry in the special effects department.

“Currently I am out in New Zealand and up until this week I have been working on an Amazon production here. We were told on Sunday (15 March) night not to come back into work, initially for two weeks but we are waiting further information to see how long that might actually be and if they are going to be paying us or continuing to pay our accommodation.

“Currently I don’t know if I should risk flying home [to the UK] or risk staying here because obviously flying runs a higher risk of catching the virus but I’m worried if I stay here I might get stuck with no income and potentially no way of getting home. But of course if I do go home there will be no work for me there either.”

Emma Lock

“January and February are always hard for freelancers, but at this time of year things are always beginning to look up.

“Closing the live music industry right now – although I totally get it, I do not want coronavirus to get any further grip on the population – means in reality that all of us freelancers lose.

“There are no benefits entitled to the self-employed if we are fit to work but our industry closes. We can just about deal with a 2-3 week shut down right now from a financial perspective but this looks like it will go on for longer and no one knows and it seems no one in charge cares.

“This is not just myself as a production manager, or my colleagues. It is all of us – the crews, security, box office, catering, cleaners, merchandise, hair, make up – everyone that the entire music industry depends on doing the little jobs.

“Colleagues on tour will be fine for a bit. Colleagues on short contracts, again fine for the next 2 months, but only if they are lucky enough to have written contracts with insurances written in. But you can guarantee most contracts will not have this sort of problem written in – so work stops and we all stop getting paid. All of us.

“The entire £1.1 billion music and gig industry depends on freelancers.

“Talking to a colleague today – he is applying to Tesco as a forks operator and I am calling Arriva tomorrow to apply as a bus driver – training is paid and I drive anyway.

It’s the not knowing is the killer – on top of the usual start of year dead period. God knows how many people the industry will lose if this goes on for more than a few weeks. We can’t do it.”

John Crosby

“I’m a production electrician working mainly in the corporate event industry. In March I would normally be doing about 20 days work and this year I have nothing.

“My wife (Kerrie) and I operate as a two-person limited company we are a good example of people who fall through the gaps and are unlikely to get any assistance for the announced fund. I can, however, imagine there are others who are in a much worse situation than us.

“We are not insured against this kind of loss of work. We are insured for long periods off work due to injury or illness. But we have built up a reserve in the company so we can continue to pay ourselves for some months. However being in our mid 50s this fund in our company has been part of our pension planning so there will be long term lasting effects for us.

“Kerrie works in the same industry section as me as a production manager and also at times as a lighting tech. She has also experienced a 100% loss of work for this period. So, neither of us are in a position to support the other. My last onsite job was 20th Feb.”

Read more

Keep up-to-date with what Bectu is doing for freelancers during this crisis.

*The names in this story have been changed to protect our members’ identity.

We’re here to support you

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