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UK chancellor unveils freelance support

Freelance workers and the self-employed in the UK will be able to apply for a grant of up to £2,500 (US$3,000) a month from the government to cover lost earnings during the coronavirus crisis.

Rishi Sunak

The TV industry is heavily reliant on freelancers and the self-employed but they have been the first to be cut as prodcos look to offset the losses from productions being frozen.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been criticised for leaving that sector out of his initial package of bailout measures last week, which included 80% wage subsidies for staff ‘furloughed’ by employers, but tonight he unveiled support measures he described as “among the most generous in the world”.

Self-employed people will be able to apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profit over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month, but this will not be paid until June. The grants will be backdated and available for three months – which could be extended if necessary.

Only those whose annual trading profit was less than £50,000 for the last tax year, or an average of £50,000 over the last three tax years, would qualify and the grants are only available to those who make more than half of their income from self-employment. Sunak said 95% of those who earn their income from freelance gigs would be covered.

Caroline Norbury MBE, CEO of the Creative Industries Federation and Creative England, tonight responded to the new measures by saying: “The chancellor’s statement today is a victory for the creative industries. It is vital they are implemented as a matter of urgency, and certainly much quicker than the proposed timeline of June – two months later than those on payroll.”

Earlier this week, BBC director-general Tony Hall, ITV CEO Carolyn McCall, Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon, S4C CEO Owen Jones and Maria Kyriacou, president for the UK and Australia at ViacomCBS Networks International, which owns Channel 5, had all signed a joint letter to Sunak demanding a package of support for freelancers.

This followed pleas from the UK Creative Industry Federation for £15bn in financial aid for freelance staff in a letter signed by industry union Bectu and Directors UK, among others.

They asked for a temporary income protection fund to provide all the self-employed with a monthly income matching their average existing earnings over three years. This came after a Bectu survey found nearly three-quarters of freelance workers in the UK’s creative industries would struggle to pay their household bills because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The UK is currently on effective lockdown with people being asked to work from home and only leave the house for essential reasons, such as shopping for food or for one period of daily exercise. The official total number of people to have died from the coronavirus in the UK is currently 578.

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