I pay tribute to Equity, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union and all those trade unions that have worked so hard throughout the pandemic to ensure that their members are properly represented and that the plight of the workers in the cultural sector has been exposed.

The majority of Equity’s members have had all or most of their work cancelled as a result of covid. Large numbers are now in debt and struggling. Although the vast majority of Equity members are self-employed and freelancers, over 40% have been unable to claim under the self-employed income support scheme. Many have had to fall back on universal credit. Because 40% have also not worked at all since March last year and many do not work for qualifying organisations, they have not benefited from the culture recovery fund. The overall consequence is that many are leaving the profession. Recent research has highlighted the large number of black, Asian and minority ethnic female workers and women who are parents or carers forced out of the sector. This is an immense loss of talent.

Equity has four simple asks: first, widen the support available via the self-employed support scheme grant to include new entrants with a 2019-20 tax return, those operating through personal service companies and the other excluded groups; secondly, when the fourth self-employed grant details are published tomorrow, continue to allow a grant based on at least 80% of average profits; thirdly, continue the suspension of the minimum income floor for universal credit beyond the end of April 2021; and fourthly, continue the £20 uplift in universal credit standard allowances beyond April 2021 as well.

In the longer term, Equity is looking at how to create jobs and, specifically, opportunities for marginalised groups in our society to enter into the cultural professions. It is calling for the introduction of a minimum income guarantee for creative workers as a long-term way to remedy low and often no pay and all those barriers to access for creative professionals. All the unions are now saying that the Government must pursue a strategy that ensures employment and job creation across the UK for a broad range of creative workers who do so much to enhance the quality of our lives.

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