This week has seen a welter of press releases reminding us that the plight of freelancers working in the culture sector is moving from dire to something worse as the pandemic rages on and there seems little sign of financially rewarding artistic activity in the near future.
This is not a peripheral issue, since it is generally accepted that 70% of those working in the sector are self-employed. This means that they do not qualify for furlough payments and a surprisingly large proportion (the figure for musicians is 41%) are also ineligible for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
Institute for Fiscal Studies Report
A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that the cost to the Exchequer of providing financial support to the self-employed who have missed out is relatively inconsequential, compared to the amounts that have been poured into the economy to help businesses, the employees and other sectors.
The cynical might also point out that, had money funnelled into many companies for inadequate PPE, the glorious don’t test, don’t trace and don’t isolate and other equally dubious projects been directed correctly, this problem need never have arisen.
Tax Payment Deadline
As if the burden for the self-employed working in and around theatre wasn’t heavy enough already, this coming Sunday is going to be another crisis moment for many, since that is the day when they will have to settle their tax liabilities.
Some readers might immediately react by wondering how freelancers who have not enjoyed a penny of income since last March could conceivably have any tax to pay.
The way that the UK tax system works for the self-employed (not to mention that of most others around the world) is to charge them in arrears. Therefore, the tax due this weekend relates to the profits (remember those?) generated in the tax year to 5 April 2020.
Not only will people have to pay the tax, but unless they are adept at financial matters, they will also need to find some money to reward their hard-earned accountant for preparing the numbers to establish the debt owed to the government.
If you are in this category and will have trouble in paying the tax, the best thing to do is to contact HM Revenue and Customs immediately. They are already preparing to make arrangements with those that need help, although the downside could be an interest charge.
Last week’s column highlighted the impending problems for anybody wishing to tour in the European Union, following the government’s inadequate last-minute compromise, which hasn’t even pleased the fishermen, let alone those such as creative artists who did not make it on to the Prime Minister’s radar.
Musicians bodies have helpfully come up with initial statistics. While these are likely to be reflected to a lesser extent in the theatre, they are still instructive. 76% of musicians had given up plans to perform in Europe, 40% have already cancelled gigs because of the failure to address these issues.
Feast and Famine
Bringing matters to a more personal level, a cellist who has played with Muse and Radiohead is now considering busking to make ends meet.
Media coverage can sometimes give the wrong impression. It is not every performer that can sell his or her music rights for millions like Bob Dylan and Neil Young or, from this side of the Atlantic, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac.
While these big names might be able to overcome the loss of Glastonbury for a second successive year and the need either to cancel the European legs of tours or pay through the nose to facilitate them, that is not the case for the average performer or company.
While musicians have often been hit harder even than those working in and around theatres, many of the issues are common to all self-employed creative workers.
Many artists use the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a major marketing tool, if not necessarily a big earner. Although the organisers are apparently still hoping to stage the event in 2021, it is currently hard to see any justification for their optimism.