We (Ash and Laura) have been selected to be part of the Freelance Task Force which has been designed as part of an initiative from Fuel to ‘strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community’ - read more about it here.
Through a complex sequence of mental gymnastics these positions have been selected by and paid for by individual organisations who have each issued contracts for 13 days of work (8 hours) across June, July and August, for a remuneration decided by that organisation. Fuel have stated that it’s an imperfect system and that this was the only way they could quickly bring people together but it has still resulted in differing understandings of what we’re all actually expected to do there and who for. Manifold questions have already reverberated around discussions of this, including:
- Are we working for our “sponsor” organisations?
- Do they want anything from us in return for this money? Do we represent them in any way?
- Do we owe them something now?
- How radical can we be in our thinking about the sector if this might negatively impact the organisation paying us?
- Are we implicit in supporting the continuation of a sector build on racist, capitalist, patriarchal principles?
Audre Lorde’s ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ have been echoing loudly.
We don’t know the answers, now or yet. But we know that this position comes with an ethical responsibility to be vocal, to be non-complicit, and basically be the mouthy cynical killjoys we both cherish being. We can’t represent anyone but ourselves, particularly other freelancers, as we’re the ones receiving money for our time, not them. However we can be the sort of people we would hope would be in “the room” if we weren’t there. We want to push, we want to provoke and we want to be part of perspectival change.
We spoke with one another at length about maybe not wanting to be part of this scheme. In part that’s because we felt like we weren’t totally sure what the aims and status of this position was, as hinted at above. In part that’s because we didn’t want to be opportunistic and were unsure that the group needed another 2 white, cis female voices. We also didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to ensure the task force is purposeful, meaningful and radical. Before taking the role, we asked if there were any appropriate candidates with a more marginalised voice who could be put forward, but sadly this wasn’t the case.
We applied to an open call sent out by The Yard, although don’t think it was an incredibly “open” open call because we only received it because we sent them an email asking how they were recruiting for it. We did this because we already work with The Yard and as we understood it each organisation was supporting freelancers they already work with. We were interviewed by two freelancers with no salaried representatives from the organisation. We explained at interview that we hoped this role might go to someone else. It didn’t. We were chosen, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. We might have been chosen because of the really small pool of applicants which possibly has something to do with lead-in time, but also has something to do with the very limited methods of sharing the call. We also might have been chosen because we said in our interview that we were trying to “find ways to burn the whole fucking system to the ground”. Or maybe it was something else.
We’re being paid £150 a day to be part of the Freelance Task Force. We negotiated this up from what The Yard initially offered because this is the minimum amount we can earn for a days work and still be able to feed ourselves and pay rent. This is a job share, and therefore the whole fee (£1950) is split between us and we’ll divvy up the work accordingly. It is a job share, and not a split and WE WILL CERTAINLY NOT BE WORKING FOR £75 A DAY. No one should be.
We’ve seen a document (and we don’t even think we were supposed to see it), but it shows what each institution are paying their freelancer. In some cases, quite frankly, it’s disgusting and undermines the intentions to “support” a freelancer entirely. If we realise we can share that document without compromising our source (because we’re spies) we’ll post it here - maybe it’s even “public” already? Pay seems to range from £100 - £200. Some people’s labour will be worth twice as much as the same labour of their peers. What does this mean for the value of this labour? Almost all organisations said they landed at their varying figures in line with ITC rates, which suggests there is some very abstract maths occurring. Fuel have said that all the organisations have “acknowledged” that it isn’t right that they’re all paying each freelancer differently and expected the same work, but that’s the issue we have with bringing something together so quickly and at such a precarious time. That’s fine, but it’s also your final warning folx - that’s not an excuse you get to use again ok?
We went into the task force inquisitive as to what the point of it all would be. We want to be incredibly clear - we will not be “going back” or “re-opening” or “working within the new normal” unless the new normal is defunded buildings in favour of the prioritisation of people; un-bordered and un-boundaried access to participation; no racism, no gender discrimination, no ableism, no classism, no intersectional injustice or disadvantage; intentional and conscious programming, curating and designing for the benefit of society and communities, not just white middle class audiences; genuine accountability for the spending of public money; no trauma related to a complete lack of value towards pastoral care; collective ownership; complete rejection of exclusionary practices that participate in anything like hostile environment policy; and flexible and equitable working to support wellbeing and work/life balance.
Having said that, of course, we will - because otherwise we would packing our shit up and leaving now. However, motions like long-term contracts between organisations and freelancers; extended covid-related financial support; promise of accountability to make organisations change intersectionally discriminatory policy through training alone - these are all just transitory demands towards TOTAL DIFFERENCE.
The first task force meeting was on Friday. It was 2 hours long, via zoom and rightly so there were a whole host of housekeeping, technical and administrative issues that made it slightly painful, although it was carefully and expertly facilitated by Xana. It's fair to say there was a certain air of people shouting their varying demands into a vortex of ever increasing zoom breakout rooms. Hopefully we’ll find our way through the anti-hierarchal nature of this before it’s too late, so that anything like genuine change can be affected. It seems that on a self-electing basis we’re going to be meeting with organisations like Equity and Arts Council England. Truthfully we still don’t know what any of it is yet. It’s messy, and that’s ok for now. However, we’ve got to quickly come up with some collective, concrete, attainable and radical action so that the sweat and tears of dismantling and doing falls into this time, and that it doesn’t just become another Theatre Zoom™ for individualised hopes and naval gazing.
Written by Ash
Laura and I have been working together, and with some amazing artists, for around a year now. At the end of 2019 we spoke about formalising our collaboration as a company of sorts. However, when Covid-19 hit the UK during the forth week of maternity leave, planning for the future and testing new ways of working seemed unimaginable. We spoke together about needing to re-train; to move away from an exploitative sector which undervalued labour and perpetuated precarity; to find a role in which we could be remunerated appropriately, not only financially but sometimes with the words “thank you”; to find a position in which having a skillset as organisers, project managers, bookkeepers, writers, caregivers, fundraisers, educators, allies, academics, is recognised as a deeply political and creative endeavour.
We spoke like this because we were tired.
We were tired long before Covid-19, of course, but the almost instant sharp focus of injustice, inequality of access and fear that the pandemic has enabled, although not unknown to us before, has certainly amplified the bitter taste in our mouths.
Throughout this lockdown, a time without a present, as Arundahti Roy has said, we have supported one another in voice notes, zoom catch-ups and emails. As despair turns to action, as it almost always hopefully can, we have come to realise that this is very much not the time to leave our work behind. In fact, how dare we have had the privilege to think we could just walk away. It is instead exactly the moment in which we should be thinking about coming together. It is a time to collectivise, to share resources and to support one other.
We both applied to ACE’s Emergency Response Fund and were each given £2,500. Like for most, it doesn’t cover lost earnings for the next six months or the untold lost potential earnings for the next two or more years. In real terms it doesn’t even cover the hours spent undoing work already done, as tour bookings fell apart, funding applications were halted and projects downsized dramatically overnight. Truthfully I will use this money to eat, pay my mooring fees, buy nappies for my kids, and possibly buy a better hand cream, but we are also using this money to pay ourselves for the labour of establishing The Uncultured.
The Uncultured takes our shared interests of artist development and social change and allows us to think holistically about how we produce, curate, facilitate and advocate. We are interested in supporting fair, kind and caring practices as a form of strength and resistance to historical injustices. We want to shout loud and ask questions and ask people to tell us why we might be wrong. We want to support a shift in the way freelancers and institutions work together for their mutual benefit. We want to hold on to some of the pain we’ve all felt in this moment to help make sure it can’t happen this way again.
So…I guess we’ll see…but maybe this is the time to launch a new arts producing company after all?
Today Ash and I attended 2 different HMRC webinars regarding the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), so thought we’d do a bit of summary in case it’s helpful to anyone else. We aren’t experts in this so if you have something a bit more complicated to check, try and go along to one of these webinars yourself to see if that helps.
You can register to attend one here - last one 11th May.
It's a bit long but fingers crossed there is something useful in there,
Summary of important info:
DOWNLOAD: Handout from the webinar with lots of useful links
Am I eligible?
First up, check if you’re eligible here.
You need your National Insurance number and your Unique Tax Reference (UTR).
You should also log in to the Government Gateway and make sure that your contact details are updated.
If I’m eligible, how do I get it?
“HMRC will aim to provide eligible individuals with information about how to apply by mid May 2020, and will make payments by early June 2020.”
“The online service will be available from 13 May 2020. If you’re eligible, we will tell you the date you can make your claim from. If your claim is approved you’ll receive your payment within 6 working days.”
If I’m not eligible, what can I do?
See here for info on Universal Credit, deferral of tax and VAT payments, loans and grants.
What are my ‘Profits from Self-Employment’?
To work out what figures they will be using to create your average profit, see your past tax returns and look for the line: ‘total taxable profits from this business’. This is the amount after expenses. More info here.
How do they calculate it?
They will take your profit from eligible years of trading – 2016-17 / 2017-18 / 2018-19 – and do the following sum (for example):
Add these together = £53,000
Then divide by 3 to get the yearly average = £17,666.67
Times by 80% = £14,133.34
£14,133.34 divided by 12 to give the monthly average = £1,177.78
You would get £1,177.78 x 3 months = total payment in one lump sum of £3,533.34
(Up to maximum total payment of £7,500, whichever is the lowest.)
If you have not submitted tax returns for all 3 years, it will then calculate on:
Useful Q+A’s from the webinar
Q: When will we know if the government is extending this scheme?
A: The grants will be available for three months in the first instance. If needed the scheme will be extended.
Q: Will any other grant or support like for example an arts council covid-19 emergency fund affect the HMRC claim for self-employed?
A: The grants are taxable, and so businesses that are less affected by coronavirus will report higher taxable income when they come to do their tax returns for 2020-21. For those who abuse the system, HMRC has a wide range of statutory and common law powers to tackle fraud and criminality, which continue to apply.
Q: I was on maternity leave for one of the three financial years, receiving maternity allowance. This has significantly decreased my annual average - can another financial year be considered?
A: To work out your average trading profit HMRC add together all profits and losses for all 3 tax years (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19) that you’ve had continuous trade, then divide by the number of tax years of trading. No pro-rata adjustment will be made if you started trading part way through one of the tax years [or experience a gap in trading profits due to maternity leave].
Claiming Maternity Allowance or taking maternity/paternity/adoption leave does not mean the trade has ceased and therefore should not affect a person’s eligibility for SEISS as long as the individual intends to return to the trade after maternity/paternity/adoption leave. If you’re self-employed but when you apply are taking a break from your trade because of a new baby or adoption, or have done since 6 April 2019, you may still be eligible because HMRC will treat you as still trading. If you claim Maternity Allowance this will not affect your eligibility for the grant.
Q: I’m currently on maternity leave but was going to do 72 hours of work to make ends meet which I now can’t do. Can I apply?
A: If you are claiming Maternity Allowance or taking maternity/paternity/adoption leave you will eligible for SEISS, providing you meet the other criteria and you intend to return to your trade after maternity/paternity/adoption leave.
Q: Are non-UK citizens who have been trading here for 3 years and paying tax, eligible for this support?
A: Yes, provided they meet the other eligibility conditions of the scheme.
Q: If I submit my 2019-2020 tax return before applying for the grant will this be included in the calculation of the 3 months income.
A: Unlike for employees, self-employed income is not reported monthly, but is reported for the entire year at the end of the tax year. This means that the most reliable and up-to-date record we have of self-employed income is 2018-19 tax returns. We would not be able to distinguish genuine self-employed people who started trading in 2019-20 from fake applications from fraudsters and organised criminal gangs. However, those who entered self-employment after this point will still be eligible for other support. For example, the self-employed can benefit from the Government’s relaxation of the earnings rules (known as the Minimum Income Floor) in Universal Credit. Individuals may also have access to a range of grants and loans depending on their circumstances, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the deferral of tax payments.
Q: I work part time and am self employed part time. Will I be eligible to make a claim for the self employed work I can no longer carry out due to coronavirus?
A: If your average self-employed trading profits are no more than £50,000 and make up at least 50% of your total income you may be eligible for this scheme.
Q: If some of the work I usually do can still be done and other work not, so my income has reduced, can I still make a claim?
A: Yes, the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by coronavirus (Covid-19).
Q: Is the profit Net or Gross expenses?
A: Trading profits are not exactly the same as the gross or net profit. The trading profit is worked out by taking the total trading income (turnover) and deducting any allowable business expenses and capital expenditure, but before deducting tax and National Insurance Contributions. You can find out how HMRC works out your trading profits on Gov.UK: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-hmrc-works-out-total-income-and-trading-profits-for-the-self-employment-income-support-scheme
Q: I am getting universal credits at the moment - can I apply for the grant?
A: Any Universal Credit claims for earlier periods will not be affected. Please be aware, if you are currently a tax credit claimant and you claim Universal Credit, your tax credit award will be closed from the day before your Universal Credit claim is made. Once you have made a Universal Credit claim it is not possible to go back to tax credits. https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit
Q: Should I apply for universal credit in the meantime?
A: For self-employed people who are struggling now some will be able to access the coronavirus business interruption loans scheme [if they have a business account]. Income tax payments due in July can be deferred until the end of January 2021. We've also temporarily relaxed the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit for self-employed claimants affected by the impact of COVID-19, so their award fully reflects any loss of income. Any grant you receive will be treated as part of your self-employment income and may affect the amount of Universal Credit you get. Any Universal Credit claims for earlier periods will not be affected. Please be aware, if you are currently a tax credit claimant and you claim Universal Credit, your tax credit award will be closed from the day before your Universal Credit claim is made. Once you have made a Universal Credit claim it is not possible to go back to tax credits.
Q: So you can still apply for this if you are still working technically?
A: Yes, self-employed people who receive this grant can continue to work or take on other employment including voluntary work.
Originally posted on Laura's website on 19.3.2018
We find ourselves in scary times at the moment and everyone working in the arts is feeling it. I hope anyone reading this is doing ok and feels that they have a support network in place - if not, please get in contact and we can have a cup of tea over Skype.
Whilst we are all losing work, we're also hoping that the government or funders will come in with a bailout pot that we can apply to in a bid to try and recoup at least some of our lost earnings. In the meantime, I've made this Lost Earnings Log template to share as a way to keep track of the cancelled/postponed contracts and the financial loss attached to these.
I think it could help each of us to keep a handle on the really rapidly changing situations that we are in, and also to be prepared to apply right away if that bailout pot does appear.
It's super easy to fill out.
There is an intro page at the start to give you tips on how to use it, and then tabs along the bottom for March, April and May. I am hoping that we won't need to monitor this past that point, but if it is needed, I will create another template for later months with a very heavy heart.
Originally posted on Laura's website on 5.3.2018
Here is the under £15,000 template for the new format Arts Council England Project Grants. Download below.
We advise that you always write your application offline and then paste it into Grantium when you are ready to submit.