Chancellor’s update on Wednesday considered last chance for financial support

D-Day for the UK’s 3 million-strong freelance community excluded from government support appears to be approaching as the country prepares for Rishi Sunak’s mini-budget on Wednesday.

The excluded freelancers, many of whom work in the TV and film industries and are engaged via short-term PAYE contracts, have fallen between the cracks of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) and Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.

Alarm bells have started ringing after yesterday’s (5 July) £1.5bn package for the UK’s cultural institutions, including theatres, failed to include support for these freelancers, who have had to rely solely on Universal Credit in the past few months since the production shutdown.

More than 100 MPs are to attend an All Party Parliamentary Group talk on the issue tomorrow morning, while the matter will be debated in parliament tomorrow afternoon, led by Treasury Committee chair Mel Stride.

While welcoming the £1,5bn financial package, broadcasting union Bectu head Philippa Childs described the freelancer situation as a “scandal”.

“The government needs to think again on support for the forgotten freelancers. They have fallen through the gaps in government support, and have been ignored so far,” she said.

Early last month, freelance collective Viva La PD’s survey of 2000 people found almost one-in-10 had left the industry or were taking steps to leave, with half actively seeking or mulling an exit.

Many have now experienced more than 100 days with little income, according to a statement from the group today.

“The chancellor has the chance to help freelancers — the engine room and ideas factory of the cultural sector — by closing the gaps in his income support schemes,” said the statement.

“We’ve struggled for over 100 days now, while seeing our taxes support other workers. We shouldn’t be made to beg.”

Any support measures would have to be part of a newly-introduced package rather than involve a tinkering of the existing system, as the JRS closed for entrants last month.

There are also fears that the exclusion will disproportionately impact people from BAME communities, sending the industry backwards in terms of representation.

TV Mindset founder Adeel Amini said last week additional help is required for “the people that are falling through the cracks within the cracks”, namely black people who have been unable to get work since the pandemic struck.

Netflix donates £500,000 to theatre fund

Meanwhile, Neal Street founder Sam Mendes has established an emergency theatre fund with a £500,000 donation from Netflix.

The Theatre Artists Fund promises quick access to one-off grants of £1,000 per applicant to the “most vulnerable freelance theatre practitioners”.

1917 director Mendes recently floated the idea of streamers – “whom Covid-19 has made rich” – donating a small amount of their recent profits to help the theatre industry restart again.

“It would be deeply ironic if the streaming services should be making lockdown millions from our finest acting, producing, writing and directing talent, while the very arts culture that nurtured that talent pool is allowed to die,” he wrote in the Financial Times last month.