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UK assistance for self-employed to be revealed later

News on how the UK’s five million self-employed workers will be assisted by the government is to be announced this evening, following pressure from trade bodies in the live events industry and beyond.

It is unclear what form the Covid-19 rescue package will take, but Kelly Wood, live and music writers official for Musicians’ Union told TheTicketingBusiness the trade body has been lobbying for a model similar to that instigated in Norway.

This direction would see self-employed workers paid a proportion of their income calculated using their earnings over the past few years. In Norway self-employed people have been guaranteed 80 per cent of their usual monthly incomes, based on providing several years of tax returns.

The Musicians’ Union has also urged the government to consider implementing a Universal Basic Income of £400 per week for the self-employed, which equates to the living wage.

Wood told TheTicketingBusiness: “Whatever happens it won’t be enough to meet everyone’s requirement. We’re worried, not only about the measures that will be put in place, but about how quickly they will be enacted.

“In this industry, the impact has been immediate. We know a lot of people live hand-to-mouth, and a lot of people don’t have huge incomes, so when the gigs stopped and the venues closed, the money for musicians stopped.”

Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged to pay workers at 80 per cent of each employee’s salary, but is now facing political pressure to help the millions of self-employed workers who will not benefit. The news came just three days after Sunak confirmed £330bn of loan guarantees and a £20bn fiscal intervention including further business rate relief for companies.

Other options on the table for self-employed people in the UK include a French-style model and the offer of a flat payment for anyone whose earnings drop by more than 70 per cent. However, both options don’t take into account those who are only just starting to build their business and income, as the schemes are based on recent earnings.

Measures already in place in the UK include the ability to delay payments for their self-assessment tax return, due in July, until January 2021.

In addition, people with savings of £16,000 or more are not entitled to any support via Universal Credit so will have to wait until their bank account is completely empty in order to qualify. After this time they could be forced to wait up to five weeks before their first payment because of the time taken to process new applications for Universal Credit.

Countries such as Australia, Denmark, and Hong Kong have created industry-specific state aid packages, including for the live events and entertainment industries.

There has also been calls in the UK for statutory sick pay and easier access to benefits and an application process that recognises how freelancers pay their taxes.

UK Music has been leading the calls for more support for self-employed workers and called on the government to “urgently” look at setting up a Temporary Income Protection Fund for self-employed workers and freelancers.

UK Music said self-employed workers should be offered the same help as other workers who will get up to £2,500 a month if they are furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Kiehl, chief executive of the umbrella organisation that represents the UK’s music industry, said: “The self-employed make up around 72% of the music industry and are a vital part of its success.

“Many self-employed are facing an immensely difficult time and are worried about putting food on the table, paying their rent or mortgage and other bills.

“The government has talked about doing the right thing. It must now do the right thing and help protect the self-employed and freelancers.”

The UK announcement on assistance for the self-employed will be made this evening at 5pm (UK time).