Creative Industries Federation calls for better government understanding of freelancers

Alys Key
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Actress Imelda Staunton helped to launch the report (Source: Creative Industries Federation)

An advocacy body for the creative industries has called for freelance creatives to be recognised as different to ‘gig economy’ workers, and for the issue of self-employment to be overseen by a minister.

With the launch of its freelance report, the Creative Industries Federation said that policies designed in response to the ‘gig economy’ might damage the livelihoods of freelancers in the creative economy due to a lack of understanding of the sector.

Rick Haythornthwaite, chair of the federation, said: “Both government and business need better to understand this hugely important part of the workforce so that policy in this area is both sensible and fair and these workers can contribute most effectively to the UK’s highly successful creative sector.”

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Freelancers and the gig economy

Coming in the wake of the Matthew Taylor report on modern working practices, the federation's report aimed to highlight some of the differences between creative freelancers and 'gig economy' workers for companies like Deliveroo and Uber.

For many jobs such as actors and directors, there are little or no staff jobs available. More than half of the 700 creatives surveyed said that being a freelancer was necessary for their career.

The federation said that another difference between 'gig economy' workers and creative freelancers was the number of tasks undertaken each year. While a Deliveroo or Uber driver may complete thousands of smaller tasks assigned via a digital platform in a year, the survey showed that most freelancers are unlikely to take on more than 100 contracts a year, with just over half working between one and 11 assignments annually.

A case study of the National Theatre in London revealed that the institution employs 2,900 freelancers and contract workers a year compared to just 611 permanent staff.

Speaking at the launch of the report, actress Imelda Staunton said: “I worked for 40 years as a freelancer. I’m afraid that’s what this business is. We have no choice. It’s not like I chose to be a creative freelancer but that’s how this business works. I have never known anything different."

She suggested life for creatives would be better “if people are supported, having workspaces they can work in, not living in terrible places, that they can afford to work”.

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Government action for freelancers

With 90 per cent of respondents to the federation's survey qualified to degree level or higher, the report proposed that universities whose graduates have a high level of full-time employment should not be favoured over ones with more graduates working part-time and or with contracts.

Other recommendations included additional support for freelancers during the switch to quarterly tax returns and making self-employment part of a ministerial brief.

Digital and culture minister Matt Hancock said: “The report will make an important contribution to our understanding of the creative industries labour market and we will ensure these recommendations are considered as part of our ongoing work on the industrial strategy and early sector deal for the creative industries."

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Creative industries reaction

The report was welcomed by notable figures in the industry, including executive director of the National Theatre Lisa Burger, director Stephen Frears, and the actor Samuel West.

Writer AL Kennedy said: “In many ways arts freelancers have always worked in the way our current punitive economy tells us we all should. They rack up long hours without raising their rates of pay, they are endlessly flexible, they train themselves, help to train and mentor others, they manage their accounts, pay taxes and silently contribute to the national economy and our wider public life.”

Author Sophie Kinsella said: "Freelance status very often makes life more complicated and expensive than for employed workers. I welcome this report for explaining the working lives of freelancers and how valuable they are."

Read more: How digitisation can help save the UK's creative industries

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