Almost Half of U.K. Film & TV Freelancers Have Lost Money from Coronavirus, Survey Finds

As countless freelance film and TV workers in the U.K. grapple with canceled or postponed work commitments, putting their entire livelihoods at risk, a new survey by entertainment union Bectu has found that almost half of freelance respondents have already lost money as a result of the pandemic.

The survey of around 5,600 people was conducted over a week and closed Monday evening, before the U.K. government had even recommended social distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus. Around 83% of those who took part identified as freelancers working across TV, film, live tours, theaters, art galleries and art studios.

Around 3,000 (46%) respondents have lost money since the outbreak. From 1,500 respondents who provided details of the financial loss, 456 reported losing more than £5,000 ($5,793), while 457 reported losing £2,000-£5,000 ($2,317-$5,793), and 591 said they have lost up to £2,000 ($2,317).

Most respondents said estimates for future loss of earnings were difficult because of the uncertainty about the length of potential disruption, but 131 people said they were facing losing over £40,000 ($46,300), while 437 said they could lose £20,000-£40,000 ($23,000-$46,300) and 783 people said they may lose up to £20,000 ($23,000).

Overall, 71% of freelancers worry they won’t be able to pay their bills because of work lost to the pandemic.

Around 36% of respondents working in theater, who have been dramatically impacted by government advice, called for Bectu to lobby the government for pay if public events are banned, while 31% asked for sick pay that covers self-isolation.

Meanwhile, film and TV crew also highlighted a need for sick pay that covers periods of self-isolation: 50% of those working on major films, 46% of those working in TV drama and 40% of those working in factual TV asked for Bectu to lobby on this point.

To date, countless feature film and TV productions have stopped filming in the U.K, ranging from big-budget studio fare such as Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” to Netflix’s “The Witcher” and BBC One’s “Line of Duty.” Production on long-running soaps such as BBC’s “EastEnders” has also been suspended.

Meanwhile, the majority of the country’s cinemas and theaters have all shuttered indefinitely. While the ban has not been legally enforced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his advice during a Monday press briefing was to “avoid” social venues such as theaters, pubs and clubs.

In response to the survey, Bectu is calling for a “meaningful” safety net for freelancers.

Their demands include direct financial support for freelance and self-employed workers, best delivered in the form of a retroactive tax rebate; deferment of the July 31 tax deadline and May 7 VAT deadline, alongside the announced delay of IR35; rent holidays; interest-free loans and measures to eliminate or supress credit card interest to prevent debt spirals; and a simplification of Universal Credit application processes.

Bectu boss Philippa Childs said: “Bectu can’t emphasize enough how urgently we need the government to act. This survey started just after the Budget announcement. We have since had another update from the Chancellor but still nothing for freelancers, the self-employed and those on zero hours contracts.

“These people have literally seen their income stream disappear in the space of a few days. They pay their taxes without fail, contribute to a thriving sector of the economy and don’t have the structure of an employer.”

Speaking to Variety earlier this week, Yvonne Gallagher, an employment lawyer with London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, which serves the local entertainment industry, pointed out, “There is a financial benefit for both employers and wider society to implement greater protection for the freelancer workforce.

“Organizations need to be aware that people who suffer financially from isolating themselves will be less likely to do so, and that increases risk of people coming into workplaces when they really shouldn’t.”

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