Labour demands Covid support for creative industry and media freelancers

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Jo Stevens has urged the government to take action for PAYE freelancers who are not able to access support via the coronavirus financial assistance schemes, saying that there is a “specific problem within the television and media sectors”.

In a letter sent to Rishi Sunak today, the Shadow Culture Secretary described how staff at the BBC are particularly affected since, as a public sector body, the organisation does not qualify for the job retention programme.

Stevens said that “many in the creative industries have been left to go through this crisis without support” and warned that a failure to retain workers in the creative industries will “prevent this critical sector from surviving”.

She wrote that concerns had been raised by the BBC and other UK broadcasters in a letter to Sunak last month, but that they had received no response. She urged the Chancellor to answer the following questions urgently:

  1. Have the solutions proposed over six weeks ago by the BBC and other UK broadcasters been considered?
  2. If they have not been considered, when will that happen and when will the government respond?
  3. If they have been considered, what is the government’s response and rationale and will you make that public?
  4. If you are not able to adopt the suggested solutions, what alternative support will you put in place for PAYE freelancers who are currently not support by any scheme?

Commenting on the situation, Stevens said: “Creative industries have become a vital, successful part of the UK economy – outgrowing the UK economy on the whole and contributing £13m every hour.

“But many in the creative industries have been left to go through this crisis without support and their concerns and proposed solutions to the government have so far been ignored.

“The Chancellor needs to listen to these pleas. We know that many talented people are now considering their futures in the sector. If we lose these skills, it will prevent this critical sector from surviving and playing its part in our recovery once the virus is beaten for good.”

Labour has highlighted a survey by the union BECTU, which showed that only 50% of creative industry workers have been able to access support through a government support scheme during the pandemic.

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Jo Stevens to the Chancellor.

Dear Chancellor,

Creative Industries and Media PAYE and Freelancers

You will be aware that within the creative industries sector there are a significant number of people who are unable to access either the job retention scheme (JRS) or the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS). Creative and cultural industries significantly contribute to the 5.3 million jobs across the DCMS sector, a sector that accounts for nearly 16% of all UK jobs.

There is a specific problem within the television and media sectors for those whose work is a combination of PAYE and freelance, where the PAYE element exceeds 50% of income.

This has led to a situation where freelancers who have correctly been given short term PAYE contracts by the BBC, cannot access SEISS and cannot be furloughed because the BBC does not qualify for the JRS as a public sector organisation.

This has left them in a situation where they cannot access support from any scheme. Such is the level of concern amongst BBC staff, the attached open letter has been sent to the director general, Lord Hall.

The issue however, goes far wider than the BBC affecting thousands of PAYE freelancers across our economically vital creative industries. This was raised with you by my colleague, the Shadow Chancellor, in an intervention on 9th April.

These concerns had also been highlighted to the Culture Secretary in a letter from the BBC and other UK broadcasters over six weeks ago (April 3rd) following a roundtable with those broadcasting chief executives. I understand they are still awaiting a response.

In view of the importance and urgency of this issue to those working in our creative industries, and the time that has lapsed, please could you respond to the following questions?

  1. Have the solutions proposed over six weeks ago by the BBC and other UK broadcasters been considered?
  2. If they have not been considered, when will that happen and when will the government respond?
  3. If they have been considered, what is the government’s response and rationale and will you make that public?
  4. If you are not able to adopt the suggested solutions, what alternative support will you put in place for PAYE freelancers who are currently not support by any scheme?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Stevens MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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