UK Music Industry Welcomes 'Vital Lifeline' for Self-Employed, But Warns Two Month Wait Too Long

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"People are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in."

LONDON — Representatives of the U.K. music business have welcomed news that self-employed artists, sound engineers and crew members will receive financial aid to help them cope with the coronavirus crisis.

The announcement was made Thursday (Mar. 26) by British Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who said self-employed workers could apply for grants worth 80% of their average monthly income -- up to a maximum of £2,500 ($3,000) a month.

The government had been under pressure to do more for self-employed workers, who account for more than two thirds of U.K. music industry jobs, after they were overlooked in an earlier coronavirus financial package.

According to an impact survey conducted by the Musicians' Union, the coronavirus pandemic has so far cost U.K. musicians more than £20 million ($24 million) in lost earnings -- a figure that is only likely to rise in the weeks ahead.

The chancellor said that the grants on offer would be available for three months and paid in one lump-sum, backdated to March. Payments will not be made until early June at the earliest, though. To be eligible, a claimant needs to earn under £50,000 ($60,000) a year with more than half their income coming from self-employment.

Musicians just starting out in their careers who do not have a full year of accounts will not receive any help beyond applying for benefits, currently set at £94.25 ($107.59) per week.

"We have been fighting very hard for adequate compensation for our members, and today's news is extremely welcome," said Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians' Union. He called the measures "a real lifesaver" and urged the government to implement them as quickly as possible.

Tom Kiehl, acting CEO of umbrella trade organization UK Music, called the financial aid "a vital lifeline," but said urgent help was still needed for the thousands of self-employed workers whose livelihoods had been wiped out by Covid-19.

"People are in desperate need with bills to pay. They need financial support now and cannot wait until June for the scheme to kick in," warned Kiehl.

He said new entries to the music industry who do not qualify for the aid were among those set to lose out. Mothers who have been on maternity leave will also potentially receive less financial support as their annual earnings will be lower than usual.

Prior to Thursday's announcement, almost 9,000 people had signed a petition by The Association of Independent Music (AIM) calling for relief funds for self-employed workers.

AIM CEO Paul Pacifico said it was great that "the independent music community's voice" has been heard. "Now we must make sure that these measures are accessible and implemented as rapidly as possible."