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Coronavirus - What do today’s announcements mean for freelance creatives in the UK?

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I’ve never been a fan of the Tories. I'm a lifelong liberal snowflake (to a fault) and have not been particularly pleased with how they’ve handled the COVID-19 crisis. Where other countries (shout out to New Zealand) have acted with speed and conviction, it would appear we decided to drag our heels until the last possible second and thousands of people will probably die as a result.

Still, better late than never as they always say. This afternoon, when Rishi Sunak took to the podium for the daily doom cast, I admit I sat poised to tear him a new one. But as a self-employed ‘creative’ that has been working for himself for the last decade, I struggled to pick fault in his plan.

I honestly breathed an audible sigh of relief

The idea (as I understand it) is to pay freelancers who have been dealt a bad hand by the pandemic a lump sum at the start of June that will represent a grant of up to £2,500 per month for work lost during the crisis. As someone who stands to lose a fair amount of work myself over the next few months, I honestly breathed an audible sigh of relief. 

There will be those amongst us who bemoan the fact that no money will be available for another couple of months. But I can see the reasoning behind the move - it is, after all, an unprecedentedly complicated situation, particularly given the number of people only working ‘part-time’ self-employed. The real question for us, however, is how these new measures will affect the creative industries?

A freelance safety net

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Until today, many of my freelance friends and acquaintances were, to say the least, experiencing some pretty substantial anxiety. But the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support scheme will cover 95% of all self-employed workers earning under £50,000 a year. This applies to not only myself but the vast majority of my ‘creative chums’.

When the initial economic help package was announced last week, the millions of freelance creatives (from art directors and writers and illustrators, actors, musicians and plenty more besides, many of them Creativepool members) that were effectively ignored spoke out in anger. Could we really be content with £95 a week in statutory sick pay? More to the point, could we even live on that? Particularly those of us living in London.

Freelancing is a precarious business at the best of times

It would appear their plan was to stagger their strategy somewhat and, in hindsight, it was probably the right move. For freelancers, the fact of the matter is that it’s a precarious business at the best of times; there have been periods in the past where I’ve made £5,000 one month and £500 the next. These are, however, most certainly not the best of times.

It’s almost impossible to predict what the immediate future will hold given the universal uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but what today’s announcement means for those of us in the trenches is that we are essentially now on the same page as everyone else. Speaking of which.

Too good to be true?

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There was a sting in the tail to this afternoon’s conference that might seem tame right now but could have severe lasting implications. Sunak finished up by declaring that, once things ‘get back to normal’, he can no longer justify asking self-employed people to pay less tax than the employed. The last I checked, I pay just as much tax as my employed friends (and that’s before we get into the whole payments on account fiasco) so I don’t know where he’s coming from here. 

Maybe I spoke too soon and this is just business as normal for the ‘party of big business’. That remains to be seen. For now, though, I’m happy to declare I will definitely be able to keep the lights on until the end of the year. And given the seemingly endless darkness that seems intent on crushing us all this year, we’re going to need all the light we can get!

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