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Covid-19: Support for Entertainment and Music Industry Freelancers

Volume 807: debated on Monday 9 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing for freelancers who work in the entertainment and music industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Lords, the Government are supporting freelancers in three main ways: first, through the Self-employment Income Support Scheme; secondly, through funding, both from the culture renewal fund, which will help allow venues to re-open and in turn create employment, and from the £119 million which Arts Council England has made available for individuals; and finally, we have obtained a number of important exemptions, which will allow some freelancers and other artists to rehearse and to restart live performances as soon as it is safe to do so.

My Lords, last week, the Chancellor had the opportunity to ensure that the Self-employment Income Support Scheme achieved what it was designed to do—essentially, to help workers such as freelance musicians and sound engineers. Yet, according to UK Music, only a third of self-employed people working in the arts and entertainment industries have been able to access these funds. Will the Government commit to looking again at this support measure and plugging the many gaps that exist, which prevent those who cannot work in the music industry accessing the scheme?

The noble Baroness raises an important point. However, I stress that the Self-employment Income Support Scheme has been made more generous as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements last week, and we expect to pay around £4.5 billion to self-employed people between November and January. We work very closely with, and are very grateful to, all our sector stakeholders and will keep all these aspects under review.

My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on the support they have been giving to the cultural sector, led by the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and, indeed, a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza. Freelancers are the lifeblood of our creative economy; I think there are even a few present in the Chamber today. Has my noble friend seen the report from the Creative Industries Federation, commissioned by Oxford Economics, which suggests that almost 300,000 freelancers may lose their livelihoods during this terrible pandemic? Despite the reforms and changes made on the way to some of the excellent support schemes, I hope that the Government will look again at how to further support freelancers.

Our freelancers are indeed the lifeblood of our creative industries; that is why we are working so hard to get funding to organisations that, in turn, will be employing freelancers. For example, the majority of successful applicants to the Culture Recovery Fund are planning activity to start before March. Our research suggests, however, that not all freelancers who are eligible for support are actually accessing it; we would really encourage them to do so.

My Lords, while there are different reasons for musicians falling through the gaps in support, the most common is that less than half of their work comes from self-employment. Will the Minister advise the Treasury that the music sector, and indeed other sectors, would be helped considerably by lowering the threshold of income from self-employment from 50% to 25% and removing the £50,000 cap on earnings when there is no equivalent cap for the CJRS?

We understand the important points that the noble Earl has raised and we are keeping these schemes under review. To repeat what I have said, we believe that the key to this is to get people performing as quickly as possible; we have tried to do this both through the exemptions that we have achieved for rehearsals and in the direction of our funding.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as listed in the register. I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s responses so far but I respectfully suggest that she has not yet given a satisfactory answer to the underlying question: why, after eight months and four versions of the SEISS and the CJRS, have the Government still not found a way to include many thousands of freelancers who have so far received no government support whatsoever and will not do so under the new arrangement? Please could the Minister have another go at answering that question?

I am happy to have as many goes as it takes. I understand the noble Baroness’s persistence on this point. To reiterate: we have the Self-employment Income Support Scheme; I acknowledge that not everyone is eligible for it. We have a major funding package for the sector, which we hope will restart work as quickly as possible. It not quite fair for the noble Baroness to speak of “no support at all”; we have adapted the welfare system so that the self-employed can access universal credit in full to get support as quickly as possible.

As the Minister has heard so often, many people who work in the creative industries are self-employed. While the government support is welcome, many cannot access it, and potentially, greater problems are coming down the line. Does the Minister not accept that unless we get a good EU-UK deal, the creative industries face another crisis imminently? With the talks restarting today, will she confirm that a priority for the Government is an easy-to-obtain creative visa for freelancers to enable the movement of talent and skills in the sector? We have very little time. Can the Minister give us an update?

The Government absolutely recognise the importance of touring for musicians and other creative talent from this country. We continue to seek a reciprocal agreement with the EU, which would allow UK citizens to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. Unfortunately, however, I cannot comment on the detail of these arrangements.

My Lords, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, the Minister mentioned that her department had done some research into the problems facing freelancers and the self-employed, most of whom have not been paid since March 2020. Does her research show how much funding the DDCMS estimates is needed to create a safety net for those workers in cultural industries? How much of the Culture Recovery Fund has actually been received to date by freelancers and the self-employed, and will she publish that information?

I am happy to share the detail of that information in a letter to the House and put a copy in the Library. We are working very hard. We have already disbursed over £500 million to 2,000 organisations as part of the Culture Recovery Fund. As I mentioned, that includes specific pots for music venues and cinemas, and we were pleased to announce additional funding for heritage and arts organisations just this weekend.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Will the Government consider extending the film and television production restart fund beyond the end of February? Weather-wise, this is when the industry tends to pick up, so freelancers could finally see the light of day at the end of a very long tunnel.

As I said, the Government are keeping all options under review. We have not yet committed all of the Culture Recovery Fund and are looking at the best ways to disburse it in full. We are optimistic that the £500 million scheme that we announced to support film and TV production will have an important impact on the sector, particularly as we have been able to secure an exemption for film and TV production during this lockdown.

My Lords, the Minister has pointed to the Culture Recovery Fund, which, of course, we all welcome. However, is she aware that conditions attached to it mean that

“new projects … during a prolonged closure period that are not essential to … continued operations”

cannot be funded through this fund, which means that it cannot trickle down from institutions to freelancers? This is a further blow to people who have had no support since April and it impacts disproportionately on deaf and disabled artists, recent graduates and people of colour. Will she press her colleagues as a matter of urgency so that any remaining money in the fund is used to support freelancers through a scheme targeted at those most in need?

As the noble Baroness knows, the aim of the Culture Recovery Fund is to sustain the ecosystem of the cultural sector. Obviously, choices need to be made within that. I dare to suggest that, had we prioritised new projects over existing ones, there might have been criticism about the ones that lost out. We have worked very hard to ensure that this money has a great geographical and sectoral reach and that it stimulates employment, particularly for our important freelancers.

Sitting suspended.