Music biz reacts to government's aid package for self-employed workers

Tom Kiehl

Music business trade bodies have given the Chancellor’s plans to support self-employed workers affected by the coronvirus pandemic the thumbs up – but have warned that music industry workers need help more quickly than the scheme allows.

Rishi Sunak unveiled measures that will include a taxable grant worth up to 80% of self-employed workers’ average monthly profit over the last three years. The scheme will pay up to £2,500 a month, in line with payments for employed workers, and initially last three months.

Music Week demanded more support for freelancers this week, and UK Music, AIM and others had all called for government action.

Only those with trading profits of less than £50,000 a year will be eligible, although the Chancellor – who recognised the impact on musicians in his statement – said that would benefit 95% of those who are majority self-employed. 

Most controversially, help will not become available until June, by which time many music industry workers will have seen much of their annual income disappear.

UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl called for “immediate and urgent help for the self-employed”.

“The help outlined by the Chancellor for the self-employed will be a vital lifeline to thousands in the music industry where 72% of the workforce is self-employed,” said Kiehl. “It is important the Chancellor recognised in his remarks that musicians and sound engineers are among the many in our sector who have seen their work dry up and need support fast.

“We need immediate and urgent help for the self-employed. People are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in or wait weeks for payments under Universal Credit. 

“The Chancellor should outline interim financial help for the self-employed to help them survive until the support scheme kicks in. He should make clear whether the support will be backdated. The Government should also clarify how this support scheme will affect mothers who have been on maternity leave and could lose out because their earnings will be misrepresented. 

“There remains a need for support for those in the music industry that have not been self-employed for very long, including recent graduates, who will not qualify for this grant. We will continue to work with the Government to do everything we can to support everyone involved in the music industry at this immensely difficult time.”

“We applaud the government’s speed and willingness in its efforts to support the most vulnerable at this time,” said Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Association of Independent Music. “Alongside our industry partners, it’s great to see that the independent music community’s voice has been heard, and made a difference in calling for support for the self-employed. Now we must make sure that these measures are accessible, and implemented as rapidly as possible.”

Musicians' Union general secretary Horace Trubridge also welcomed the move.

“We have been fighting very hard for adequate compensation for our members, and today’s news is extremely welcome," he said. "To every member who filled in our impact survey or wrote to their MP, I thank you. We have never stopped pressuring the Government and individual case studies have been invaluable.

“With over 90% of our 32,000 members being self-employed, today’s measures are vital. We understand that implementing this system will be complex, but we now urge the Government to work to get it in place as quickly as possible. Any help that the MU can give in this process will be readily offered.

“I understand that many members are struggling with financial hardship right now and to try and alleviate immediate strain the MU has set up a hardship fund. Members in genuine financial hardship can apply for the MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund for £200 to tide them over until Government support is available.

“We do, however, have limited resources so the fact that the Government’s financial assistance will be backdated to 1 March 2020 will be a real lifesaver for so many musicians.

“Although the announcement contains good news for many of our members – we will be urgently moving to ask further questions about how exactly this is going to work, and to make sure that musicians don't fall through the cracks. 

“We all need music more than ever in these difficult times. I thank the Government and every MP across every party who helped to ensure that musicians will now be able to survive to continue playing that music for us.”

Caroline Norbury, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation, also weighed in.

"The Chancellor’s statement today is a victory for the creative industries,” she said. “It is welcome that the voice of the creative sector has been heard and government is going to stand by the majority of the UK’s self-employed and freelance workers, as called for in our open letter to the Chancellor this week. We now must ensure that this package is comprehensive and interim relief is immediately accessible.

“Although the measures announced today are welcome, it is vital that they are implemented as a matter of urgency, and certainly much quicker than the proposed timeline of June - two months later than those on payroll,” she added. “Self-employed workers have outgoings and business expenses due immediately, which £94.25 a week in Universal Credit payments simply will not cover. They cannot wait three months to be paid. It is vital that government implements an interim basic income for the self-employed, until the scheme is fully operational. 

“We must ensure that these packages are truly comprehensive and accessible to all."

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians said: “We are delighted to see that the ISM’s tireless efforts to bring the plight of musicians to the attention of the Chancellor and others within government as a result of Covid-19 has been successful.

“The Government has listened and announced financial measures to support the self-employed and freelance workforce, including musicians. We have written numerous times to the Chancellor in the last week and engaged in discussion with key ministers, parliamentarians and civil servants in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on musicians and urging the Government to take action.

“We will be looking closely at the package and advising our members and the wider music sector in due course."

Meanwhile, Joel Crouch, VP at Eventbrite Europe, said the package would “give the events industry some much needed reassurance”.

“Nonetheless, as an industry we are not out of the weeds yet,” he added. “We will continue to offer helpful information and solutions that will help event creators navigate this crisis over the coming weeks.”

* To read Music Week’s editorial on why self-employed music industry workers need more support, click here. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.

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