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A Quarter Of A Million Arts Jobs Could Be Lost This Autumn, Labour Has Warned

Labour are warning more than a quarter of a million arts jobs could be at risk next month (PA)

4 min read

More than a quarter of a million jobs in the arts could be at risk when the government’s furlough scheme ends later this month, Labour has claimed.

Up to 279,000 people employed in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors may be out of work as many theatres and live music venues remain closed this autumn because of socical distancing rules.

When furlough finishes at the end of October it will be replaced with the Jobs Support Scheme, which Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said is available to those in viable jobs where employees can work one third of their normal hours. The government will cover 22 percent of their pay.

Sunak has been the target of criticism from the arts sector over how the sector can survive and if jobs can remain technically ‘viable’ according to the government’s definition.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens has said the Chancellor has dismissed some arts jobs as not having a future despite the £112 billion the sector brings to the economy every year.

Stevens said: “The government’s failure to get a proper test and trace system up and running has condemned our world-renowned culture sector to the bleakest of winters.

 “We have called repeatedly for the Chancellor to think creatively and respond to the sector’s specific needs. Instead he’s dismissed this multi-billion pound industry as unviable.

"His schemes do not help industries that remain largely closed and where freelancers make up the majority of the highly skilled workforce. Our cultural sector is viable, the people who make it successful deserve support and we need it to be there ready for when we emerge from this crisis.”

Venues waiting to hear if they had received funds from the £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund will find out if they have been successful on Monday October 12.

Labour pointed out this is four months after the scheme was announced. 

Head of creative arts union Bectu, Philippa Childs, said: “The cultural sector has been at the sharp end of the pandemic for months, with venues closed and income non-existent for businesses and for the army of freelancers who are the backbone of the sector.

“Now with furlough ending and venues still unable to open we are seeing an alarming rise in redundancies which could scar the sector for decades to come.

“We urgently needed targeted support for sectors that are closed, focused on maintaining workers and skills, not just on preserving empty buildings.”

Sunak became embroiled in a Twitter dispute with ITV yesterday after a report suggested that he had said people in the arts could retrain and find other jobs.

He said he had been talking about employment generally, and he cared deeply about the arts and the £1.57 billion culture package is ‘one of the most generous in the world’.

Labour's prediction for job losses is based on the Office for National Statistics Business Impact of Coronavirus survey which estimates that 41.4 percent of the arts, entertainment and recreation workforce were furloughed in the period August 24 to September 6 which equates to 279,000 employees.

The Treasury’s arts package announced in July includes £1.15 billion for cultural organisations in England and will be offered through a mix of grants and loans with £270 million of repayable finance and £880 million in grants.

There will also be £100 million of targeted support for national cultural institutions in England and the English Heritage Trust.

The Chancellor was asked specifically earlier this week whether some of the UK's artists, musicians and actors should get another job. He said there is still work available in the creative industry but they will need to adapt.

He added: "Can things happen in exactly the way they did? No. But everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality."

While many people in the creative sector were on the furlough scheme, theatre freelancers are one group who struggled to get any support.

If they were employed through a mixture of PAYE contracts and also invoice for their work may have been excluded from the Self-employment Income Support Scheme as they have not reached the 50 percent threshold to qualify.

People who have recently gone self-employed have also been excluded.

Overall, Labour estimates that the bulk of the 694,000 freelancers who work in the creative industries have been excluded from support since the pandemic began. 

Campaign group UK Music has also pointed out that recording studios were not explicitly eligible for the Treausry’s retail grants.

In response a Treasury spokesperson said: “In July we announced a £1.57billion investment to protect our world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions through the pandemic. 

"Our support for business has reached, and continues to reach, millions of firms. The Job Support Scheme is designed to protect jobs in businesses facing lower demand over the winter due to COVID, and is just one form of support on offer to employers during this difficult period. 

“Businesses can still access our loan schemes, now extended, defer VAT payments previously due in March, and benefit from business rates holidays, a moratorium of eviction for commercial tenants and the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.”

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