Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Support Measures

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 8th October 2020.

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Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Solicitor General 2:57 pm, 8th October 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow David Warburton. The creative industries are one of our greatest exports and a symbol of our national identity. They attract millions of people across the globe to visit and to live and work in the UK every year. I am proud that many of my constituents work in the sector as musicians, actors and producers in TV, theatre, art, design and dance. However, as we all know, the pandemic has dealt them a severe blow and looks set to prevent many organisations from reopening anytime soon.

I want to focus my comments today on those who work in the creative industries. This is an extremely talented, diverse and world-leading workforce. Office for National Statistics figures indicate that just over 30% of them are self-employed, with the subsectors most impacted by the pandemic, such as theatre and music, having a self-employed workforce of around 70%. As has been raised countless times in the Chamber, the design of the self-employed income support scheme has excluded at least 3 million self-employed taxpayers from any support. That was avoidable, and countless calls for the scheme to be amended have fallen on deaf ears.

I have received a huge number of emails from constituents who are affected, for example by being excluded from the SEISS and the job retention scheme because less than 50% of their income is from self-employment. This has impacted local musicians in particular, who often rely on a mixture of PAYE work on zero hours contracts alongside self-employed earnings. Constituents whose trading profits are just over the £50,000 threshold for support have been left with nothing because of the cliff edge. Constituents who operate under limited companies receiving remuneration through dividends—including video editors, producers and many more who have had to establish themselves in this way as a contracting requirement—have been excluded through no fault of their own. It is a travesty that these people have been excluded by the Government, and the just thing to do would be to find a solution. Instead, the Government are turning their back on them and, from November, reducing the grant to 20% of an individual’s average monthly trading profits. That is not enough for anyone to survive on. Further, the Chancellor’s comments this week, implying that struggling musicians and other arts workers should retrain and get a new job, are frankly insulting. The exemption measures are why so many creative workers have been put in an impossible situation. It is no fault of their own.

The job support scheme is similarly having dire effects on the creative workforce. In the past week alone, I have received numerous emails from constituents. One wrote telling me:

“I have worked in the theatre industry for over a decade and am now facing redundancy as our theatre simply cannot, by current legislation, open its doors. The latest wage subsidy plan won’t reach far enough in our industry, as we are simply unable to work up to a third of our normal working hours.”

Another constituent wrote saying:

“I am a freelance worker who, recently, was employed full time as a Resident Director in the West End, a job that I had been working towards for almost 2 years. I benefitted from being on furlough but was then taken off and made redundant when the government were being unclear on when theatres will open again. Since March I have spent all of my savings that I worked so hard to get.”

Despite the very obvious challenges facing workers, the Culture Secretary’s voice in all this has been extremely quiet. Why is he not lobbying the Chancellor, fighting the corner of the creative workforce? That is what those in the creatives industries want to see happening. This is one of the most unique and special sectors in the world. The Government need to urgently review how they expect the industry to survive in these conditions and introduce measures that will save creative jobs—and these are viable jobs. That can be done so long as the political will exists among the Government’s culture team. Sadly, at the moment that seems lacking.