Wallet with banknotes

Sunak’s self-employment support is a short-term panacea

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has doubled the support for freelance workers from 40 percent of average trading profits following the announcement of the second lockdown in England which starts on 5 November.

The new scheme will be quicker to pay out, as well, with claims being settled by 30 November. The offer is not quite as generous as it appears, though. The rise to 80 percent is for the month of November alone and reverts to 40 percent for December and January. For many working in the performing arts, the sudden decision to lockdown has meant concerts, plays and pantomimes will be cancelled, so the next three months on 55 percent of expected income will make things difficult.

Despite pressure from industry bodies including the Musicians’ Union (MU) and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), Chancellor Sunak has refused to adjust the rules to allow for the estimated three million self-employed who are excluded from the scheme.

Many of the musicians who have fallen through the loopholes in Sunak’s system are part-time teachers who are taxed at source by schools but for insufficient hours to qualify for furlough. This work, however, means their self-assessed trading profits are negligible, leaving little for the SEISS scheme to count.

Others, who have to incorporate as sole-proprietors to obtain some work, are too small to benefit from the business support schemes offered by the Chancellor. As a result, surveys such as that by the Encore Musicians booking platform indicate almost two thirds of professional musicians are considering leaving the industry.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, welcomed the increase but said that it was insufficient, ‘The increased rate of SEISS is only for the first month of a three month grant period and three million self-employed workers continue to be excluded from receiving it at all. So, maintaining a higher level of grant, expanding the eligibility criteria and developing a clear roadmap for the return of live performance are all now essential for preventing an exodus of highly skilled talent from our world-leading arts sector.’

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