NUJ response to the March 2021 budget
While welcoming the extension of the aid schemes, the NUJ is concerned that many freelances remain excluded and says the industry will need to adopt the union’s news recovery plan if it is to prosper following Covid-19 restrictions.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"We welcome the extension to the furlough scheme which has been essential in protecting media jobs hit hard by the effects of the pandemic – the job retention scheme must stay in place as long as is necessary to allow the industry to get back on its feet once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. But the real problem is that the media industry was in crisis well before being hit by coronavirus.
"The power of the tech giants has destroyed the news business model and that is why we have called for a levy based on their huge profits, which have increased vastly during the pandemic, to fund public interest journalism. That is why the union's news recovery plan proposes a raft of measures and interventions to reboot a plural, diverse and vibrant news ecosystem and we will continue to discuss these plans with the governments of the UK and Ireland."
A survey of NUJ members carried out in January showed that about 15 per cent of those responding were on a furlough, with half saying they did not believe the furloughing selection process was done fairly and almost 60 per cent said their employer had not topped up the government's 80 per cent of pay. Some members, for example those working for JPIMedia have been on furlough since April.
Pamela Morton, NUJ national freelance organiser, said:
"While the announcement that the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant will remain at 80 per cent until the end of April is welcomed, as well as that the reported 600,000 will be eligible to apply, it is bitterly disappointing that despite the campaigning and repeated calls by trade unions and other organisations that there is still no financial support for most of those excluded since the start of the SEISS.
"The UK government has had a year to work out mechanisms to widen support and it continues to be desperately unfair and damaging for those who haven't. The uplift to Universal Credit of £20 will continue for six months but our surveys show that many of our members are not eligible."
"The fifth SEISS grant will also see the self-employed facing a cliff edge in support, with those who can show their turnover has fallen by at least 30 per eligible for up to 80 per support but those whose turnover has fallen by less than 30 per cent only eligible for up to 30 per cent support.
"These measures are penalising the self-employed who are already the most vulnerable in our economy, and as well as rectifying the gaps in support, the UK government must take steps to ensure there is radical reform in how the self-employed are treated and improve their rights and protections."
Budget main points
- The furlough scheme is to be extended to the end of September. The government will continue to pay 80 per cent of wages up to a cap of £2,500 a month. From July, furloughed staff will still receive 80 per cent of wages but employers will be asked to contribute 10 per cent, rising to 20 per cent in August.
- The self-employment income support scheme is also extended, worth 80 per cent of three months' average earnings up to £7,500, with 600,000 more self-employed people now eligible for the grant because they have sufficient tax returns.
- This still leaves many others of the 3m who have been excluded, including those paid by PAYE, with higher earnings and directors of limited companies who pay themselves through dividends.
- The Chancellor said aid would be targeted so people whose turnover has fallen by 30 per cent or more will receive the full 80 per cent grant. People whose turnover has fallen by less than 30 per cent will receive a 30 per cent grant.
- A £20-a-week uplift to universal credit will run until September, to be paid as a one-off payment of £500.