‘It’s like a slap in the face’ – Union calls for government response to support artists

By Declan Carey

ARTISTS in the UK are feeling ‘disregarded’ by the Government according to the Artists’ Union England who claim Chancellor Rishi Sunak is ignoring their calls for support.

Despite writing to the Government asking for help on behalf of artists, the union claims that their correspondence has been met with silence as artists across the country continue to face difficulties finding work.

Zita Holbourne, Joint National Chair at the union, told Redaction Politics that the lack of support or acknowledgement is a ‘slap in the face’ for artists who are actively involved in local communities.

She said: “It’s been a really stressful and worrying time, as a lot of our members are self employed.

“A portion of them will work for an employer, but many are self employed and this means that there is uncertainty about when they will get any paid work again, where that is going to come from.”

“A lot of our members also work in art sectors that are socially engaged that work in communities, particularly vulnerable communities and people in poverty for example.

“So there’s an impact on the community as well that our members support and work with.

“We’ve sent a series of letters to the Chancellor including open letters about our members and to date we haven’t had a single reply from the Government.

“Whether they’ve forgotten or intentionally disregarded workers like artists I can’t answer that.

“But I certainly think it’s unsatisfactory to completely disregard those workers and their needs.

“They have families, they have to pay their rent and mortgage and they shouldn’t have been left out.”

The arts and culture industry contributes £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy according to Arts Council England, supporting more than 360,000 jobs.

However, the Office of National Statistics found that between March and April this year more than 67 per cent of artists working for companies that continued to operate were furloughed.

And while the Government did reveal a £1.57 billion package to protect cultural and heritage organisations, Zita Holbourne believes too many artists have ‘fallen between the gaps.’

She said: “A lot of our members have fallen through the gaps when it comes to Government measures.

“Because of the fact that there’s not a steady income, a lot of artists have an additional day job or part time job, and that will often be precarious work.

“That’s also impacted on artists because that work may have gone or they may have been furloughed as businesses have shut down completely.

“These are socially engaged artists working in the community who don’t earn a lot of money from their art.

“The Government ought to be acknowledging that there is this group of workers they have disregarded.

“I think it’s completely disrespectful and also irresponsible.

“I hope it hits when we have another election as people start to recognise what this Government is about.

“Trade unions are recognised organisations, established organisations, we’re a younger union but that shouldn’t make any difference.

“The Government ought to have acknowledged the correspondence we sent to them and should have been responsive and set out what they were going to do.

“It’s like a slap in the face, but it isn’t just for us and our union, it’s a slap in the face for everybody that’s a member of our union and all people working in art and culture whether or not they are members of a trade union.”

Businesses in the arts and culture sector are experiencing widespread closures and job losses, with the Music Venue Trust reporting that hundreds of music venues across the UK are currently at risk of permanent closure.

While in France, President Macron set up a 7 billion euro fund to support the country’s art and culture sector for the months of March, April and May, as well as announcing a 12-month extension of special out of work benefits for creative workers.

However, the Treasury defended their efforts in supporting the arts sector during the Covid 19 crisis.

A Government spokesperson said: “We are doing everything we can to support the arts sector during this crisis.

“Around 75,000 people who work in the arts have received more than £200m in government grants though our self-employment support scheme – with a second payment now available to those in need.”

“This is in addition to a historic £1.57bn support package for UK culture to help the hardest hit organisations through the crisis and protect the jobs they provide, ensuring work continues to flow to freelancers.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was also contacted for comment.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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