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Creative Freelancers: Income Support Scheme

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 5 November 2020

What plans his Department has to support creative freelancers who are not eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. (908261)

What plans his Department has to support creative freelancers who are not eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. (908262)

What plans his Department has to support creative freelancers who are not eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. (908272)

Our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them. We are working hard to help freelancers in those sectors to access support, particularly if they do not qualify for the self-employment income support scheme. Arts Council England has made available £119 million to individuals, of which £23 million has already been distributed. Around £96 million is currently still available to apply for.

Many of the staff who work in creative venues are very low paid. What provisions will the Government make if venues remain closed after the beginning of December, which is very likely?

The hon. Lady will know that the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund will benefit freelancers because it enables the assisting of organisations to reopen and restart performances, perhaps in a digital or livestream capacity. It will help many organisations to put on cultural activity in this financial year, which they would not otherwise have been able to do. I am sure the hon. Lady will be delighted that in her own constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, for example, the recovery funding has enabled the sharing out of more than £571,000 between six organisations. I am sure it will be a lifeline for many of them.

I thank the Minister for her answer, but the reality is that the number of performances will be a fraction of what it would normally be. I have been contacted by constituents who are performers, make-up artists, instrumentalists and other freelancers in the creative sector who work in the west end; they have been excluded from all Government support. In west London, universal credit barely covers or fails to cover even the cost of rents, meaning that people now face going through lockdown with no additional support, adding to the queues at food banks. What will the Minister do to help them?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the plight of freelancers, without whom, of course, our cultural institutions are simply bricks and mortar. We know that what they want to do more than anything is get back to doing what they love, which is why I am so delighted that nearly 1,400 of the successful culture recovery fund recipients announced on 12 October set out in their applications how the support would enable them to deliver more than £150 million-worth of cultural activity before the end of March 2021, which they would not otherwise have been able to do. As the hon. Lady will know, well over half a million pounds of that money is being spent in her constituency.

No one is disagreeing with the Minister that additional money has been put into the arts and culture sector. That amount of money is always welcome, but the Minister must understand that the reality is that there are growing numbers of freelancers, musicians and performance artists who are excluded from getting any support from Government and are not benefiting from the individual grants to cultural centres in any part of the UK. There are growing numbers of organisations calling for more support specifically for musicians, whether it is ExcludedUK, the Incorporated Society of Musicians or the Musicians’ Movement. What is the Minister or, indeed, the Secretary of State doing to lobby Treasury Ministers to ask them to change their mind to ensure that these freelancers get support so that we have some sort of cultural society left after the pandemic is over?

As I have already articulated, there is £119 million of Arts Council England funding for which freelancers can bid, and I am sure that the Welsh Government are doing something similar with their share of the cultural recovery fund. It is also all about protecting opportunities for freelancers. Even in the latest restrictions that come into force today, we have ensured that there are exemptions for professional music, recording studios, film and TV production and live stream and digital performances. It is all about enabling those opportunities for people to keep doing the jobs that they love and that they are so brilliant at.

The hard-hit creative industries face not only the challenge of covid, but the looming threat of Brexit. The live music industry contributes more than £1 billion annually to the economy. EU nationals, are, of course, a vital part of this picture, with 750,000 music tourists visiting the UK. Barriers to travel—inevitable after Brexit—could lead to many of them going elsewhere in Europe. Brexit is not only a problem for those attending festivals from the EU, but a threat to those who perform at or work for festivals. There is endless red tape in the form of ATA carnets and the necessity for individual work visas. The Government are yet to come up with a viable solution to any of these problems. Given that, does the Minister accept that disruption to the ability of essential EU industry professionals and European visitors to come to the UK will harm this sector and damage the economy at a time when its success could not be more important?

No, I do not accept that. My Department has been regularly engaging with a range of creative industries, including the live music and cultural sectors, to make sure that the support is put in place for businesses, freelancers, visitors and the creative and artistic economy as we move towards the transition period.