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Opinion | More support for the self employed is vital

2:51, 9th July 2020

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM, argues for increased support for freelancers in post-Covid recovery plans 

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has existed for almost 140 years. In that time our organisation has changed and grown, and we now have over 10,000 members. We have confronted many challenges but the impact of Covid-19 has been like no other. Almost overnight, the live music scene was brought to a halt and with it the income of thousands of musicians – the majority of whom are freelance. We, like the rest of the sector, have worked hard to support our members and lobby the government to take the necessary action in these troubled times.

Both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) have been vital lifelines for many musicians and music businesses, and the £1.57 billion of government funding that was recently allocated to the arts will keep many organisations afloat. Museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues will be able to apply for emergency grants and loans, helping staff that work there, and giving many people an opportunity to continue to benefit from a rich cultural offering when doors reopen.

We are lucky in this country to have many hundreds of internationally renowned venues, with long histories. But the creative industries and the music sector especially are about people, and they are about talent – without which we have nothing.

At the ISM we are very concerned that many of our most talented and often younger musicians are considering their future within our industry. Some have already left. Current financial difficulties and uncertainty about when live music will return have created a hostile climate.

Last month, we surveyed hundreds of self-employed professionals from across the music sector, including many performers. The results were hard reading. Even among those that had managed to access the SEISS, half reported that the payment they received covered only 50% or less of their usual income over a three month period; and two fifths reported that their payment was not sufficient to cover their living costs. The younger a recipient was, the more likely they are to have received a smaller payment. Worryingly, 42% anticipate that it will take 12 months plus for their income from self-employed work to return to pre-Covid levels.

Even among those that had managed to access the SEISS, half reported that the payment they received covered only 50% or less of their usual income over a three month period; and two fifths reported that their payment was not sufficient to cover their living costs

The picture is much worse for those who were unable to access funding through the SEISS or furlough scheme, due to the many gaps in the system.

So with this in mind, and considering that freelancers make up the majority of the music sector’s 191,000-strong workforce, our first thought was to look at how yesterday’s funding announcement would support them.  The devil is in the detail – to borrow a well-worn phrase – but looking at the detail it appears that the grants and loans will go directly to venues or businesses/organisations. Because of this, the government’s financial package does not provide the support freelancers need.

If venues and organisations can stabilise themselves with the new funds, then their employees are more likely to hold onto their jobs. However there will still be very little work for musicians. And with no timelines accompanying the roadmap for a return to live performance, and with the likelihood of reduced capacity openings, our fear is that many freelance musicians will still be out of work after the self-employed scheme has come to an end in August.

So our message to government is this: we welcome the financial support targeted at our world-beating creative industries. But now is the time to build on this positive first step, with further measures to support the self employed. This should start with extending the SEISS until the end of the year. And our message to musicians and other freelancers in the music sector is that we will continue to take up your demands, in recognition of your difficult circumstances and the vital contribution you make to our sector.

http://ism.org

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