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NUJ calls for financial protection for freelances during Covid-19 pandemic

17 March 2020

The NUJ is calling on the Chancellor to provide more protection for freelances in the media and creative industries because of the threat of Covid-19.

The majority of freelances are not eligible for statutory sick pay if they are unable to work because of the virus and have recourse only to Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit.

These welfare benefits are for those on low or zero incomes, and unsuitable for those who make a living from self-employment. The system is complex and time-consuming, and as it is means-tested those with savings are ineligible. Most freelances keep money aside to pay for their tax bill and other contingencies.

A proper support package should be available that is specifically designed for the self-employed.

The National Union of Journalists supports the calls from the TUC for the government to introduce emergency legislation that:

  • Gives every worker the right to statutory sick pay from the first day of absence.
  • Scraps the minimum earnings threshold for statutory sick pay.
  • Ensures that sick pay is paid to workers having to self-isolate.
  • Increases the weekly level of sick pay.
  • Provides funds to ensure that employers can afford to provide sick pay, and additional support to those who miss out.

These provisions should also encompass the needs of freelancers.

Francis Sedgemore, Freelance Industrial Council chair, said:

“A recent survey of freelance members conducted by the NUJ revealed that around 40 per cent undertake work on clients’ premises, or on assignment. Photographers are the most visible example, but writers and editors often work away from home, and we know that some have lost income as a result of coronavirus-related restrictions.”

Natasha Hirst, Photographers’ Council chair, said:

"Photographers and videographers are experiencing a double disadvantage as a result of the disgraceful lack of thought given to the self-employed. Income is being lost due to cancellation of events and commissions and the lack of SSP is leaving individuals without income if they become unwell with covid-19. We encourage members to inform their MPs of their concerns and remind the government that freelancers are vital to the economy."

The union urges freelances who believe they may have symptoms to self-isolate and follow official guidance. The union has published information on dealing with Covid-19 on its website and has specific advice for freelances.

Members are encouraged to sign the petition calling for the self-employed to receive statutory sick pay during the pandemic.

Ask your MP to sign EDM #302 which calls on the Government to introduce a temporary universal basic income or an emergency measure to help freelancers and the self-employed effected by the covid-19 outbreak. You can contact your MP via the WritetoThem website.

Tags: , covid-19, coronavirus, pandemic, freelance, sickness pay, universal credit, Employment Support Allowance, freelance industrial council, photographers’ council, photographers