Still nothing for self-employed workers – unions pile pressure on the government

Millions of freelancers and self-employed are still waiting for financial support from the government.

Many Prospect and Bectu members across the economy have lost all their income and unless they get assistance immediately will be unable to pay their bills.

The NUJ is urging freelance members to write to their MPs to demand the government:

  • gives every worker the right to statutory sick pay from the first day of absence
  • Scraps the minimum earnings threshold for statutory sick pay
  • ensures that sick pay is paid to workers having to self-isolate
  • increases the weekly level of sick pay
  • provides funds to ensure that employers can afford to provide sick pay, and additional support to those who miss out.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “It’s now a week since Rishi Sunak announced that the government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to get us through this crisis. For freelancers and the self-employed however it’s still more a case of ‘whatever we can get away with’.

“We still have no form of income protection for freelancers and warm words on rent protection have morphed into ‘you can wait an extra month or so until you get evicted’.

“Millions of freelancers are crying out for help. They need it today so they can pay their bills at the end of the week. If they can’t the whole economy suffers.

“Unions are experts on how to support workers of all kinds. It’s time the government got around the virtual table with us so we can work out a fair and workable solution to this crisis.”

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 3,000 Bectu members revealed they would lose an average of £33,000 if the government paid only £4,800

When respondents were also asked how much they would expect to earn in combined wages and kit rental after tax and deductions the figure rose from £38,000 to an average of £46,464 with certain roles quoting an expectation of over £20,000 in equipment rental earnings alone.

Many specialist roles in film and TV require people to buy their own kit and rent it to a production. These freelancers work on the basis that this expensive and specialised equipment and vehicles to move it around in are investments that will pay for themselves.

The survey also found that nearly half of the respondents had bought a car or van specifically to transport equipment and 400 respondents said that the car costs them nearly £600 a month in leasing costs.

They will still be responsible for the overheads such as loans and rental and leasing commitments while productions have ground to a halt.

Respondents also said in a normal year they would expect to work 232 days, but this year, at best, it would be less than half and as low as 91 days with shooting crew expectations even lower at 67 days.

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “These findings show why the current government offer to the self-employed to access £94 a week through the benefits system is not enough to even cover their overheads and ensure they are in a position to financially recover from the effects of coronavirus.

“Many of our members who work as freelancers do a lot more than supply their own labour. They have significant overheads covering vehicles, software licences and insurances. They are also expected to supply thousands of pounds worth of equipment as part of the package that they provide to their engagers.”

Bectu is calling on the government to use the tax data from previous tax returns to build a picture of an average total verifiable income across different streams for each worker who claims. This must be mindful of the different methods in which self-employed workers earn income. The government would then pay grant payments covering 80% of this income (based on an average of the last year or the last 3 years, whichever is higher) with a cap of £3000 per month.

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