Tracy Brabin commits to further lobbying for freelancers

1 May 2020

Tracy Brabin MP has committed to continue campaigning for immediate financial support and longer-term protection for freelancers as the creative industries reel from the impact of COVID-19.

Tracy Brabin MP and shadow creative industries minister at a Bectu webinar on 30 April 2020

The shadow minister for cultural industries told Bectu members on a webinar: “We are potentially the least understood sector but the most impacted, and likely to take longest to get back up and running.

“It feels like social distancing is going to go on for months, so how to you do theatre, a gig, or theatre in education in schools?”  How will those who have lost their summer festivals or other events be able to come back next year? What about the pantomimes that keep so many going in the winter months?

“The government can’t just look after you until July; we must keep lobbying for support until we can get back to work.”

More than 280 participants, including many young workers, also heard from head of Bectu Philippa Childs. They put questions to the speakers about the current situation and the way forward.

The plight of freelancers in the creative industries was also laid bare during the webinar on 30 April.

Their responses to two snap polls were sobering. Just 50% have access to financial support from a government coronavirus income support scheme. Later, many indicated they are still waiting for any actual money.

A shocking 62% have started to reconsider their future in the creative industries since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Brabin’s background is as an actor and writer, with a TV director husband and two daughters. “So I get it,” she said. Even in normal times the lifestyle of a freelancer was “feast and famine”.

Mental health

Before COVID-19 hit, the incidence of mental health problems in the creative sector had been three times more than average.           

“Lockdown has really impacted on our mental health as has not knowing where our finances are coming from,” said Brabin.

She praised Bectu, Prospect, Equity, the Writers Guild, Creative Industries Federation, Society of London Theatres and other campaign groups working together to seek solutions.

Brabin outlined her belief that culture should not just be about big cities but working class voices in communities and towns.

More than 4,000 freelance creatives responded to her appeal for details of the impact of COVID-19, with passionate, moving and heart-breaking stories.

When the pandemic hit, the government prioritised businesses and PAYE employees. It was only through collective action by unions and others “that we managed on 26 March to get the government to launch support for the self-employed”.

But sadly many are still falling through the net, particularly new starters, limited companies, those earning more than £50,000 and families who have taken maternity leave.


“I am going to continue with Bectu, Equity, UK Music and all the other campaign groups to make sure we survive,” Brabin said. “Life cannot just be about bed and work, but about a reason for living. The creative part of life – whether that’s sport, comedy, bingo, a gig – is  about enriching life.”

Official statistics released on 30 April show that in 2019, 5.3 million jobs are in the Department for Culture Media and Sport sector. “We are 15.7% of all jobs and the cultural industries within DCMS are growing the fastest,” said Brabin.

“We are hyper-exposed but so important for our country going forward. What we deliver – our talent, the way we punch above our weight – means it’s really important we protect the sector.”

We need your voice

To those with doubts about remaining in the industry she urged: “Please don’t leave. We need your voice. We need that diversity. It can’t just be left to those who have money and savings to stay on.”

She also encouraged all freelancers to join the union for strength in numbers and to protect pay and conditions after COVID-19.

Work together

Philippa Childs thanked Brabin for being a champion of those affected.

Childs said Bectu is lobbying hard to fill the gaps in existing schemes, working with other industry stakeholders to keep up the pressure on the government, the Treasury, BEIS and DCMS.

These experiences should feed into the wider debate about a new deal for freelancers. “Lots of people feel very vulnerable and are thinking seriously ‘do I want to be part of this industry going forward?’.

“We have to support freelancers better and give them more security in their job, more  control and more rights.

“I am encouraged that so many stakeholders have come together. We don’t agree on everything but we have recognised the crisis, tried to work together and provide solutions. I don’t want to lose that at the end of this.

“If you want a real partnership and good industry culture we all have to be part of that conversation.”