COVID-19: Letter to the Chancellor on expanding the coverage of the SEISS

The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
11 Downing St Westminster
London SW1A 2AB

1 June 2020

Dear Chancellor

On behalf of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), I am writing this letter in response to the recent announcement on 29 May outlining changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

As you will know, for much of the music industry an entire year of income and trade has been wiped out as a result of COVID-19, and our sector is now facing a number of serious obstacles that must be overcome if it is to remain world-leading.

The extension of the SEISS is fantastic news for the many thousands of music professionals who depend on this vital lifeline. We are delighted that the government has listened to organisations like the ISM, which has campaigned for an extension on behalf of our members, many of whom are self-employed.

When the SEISS was first announced, the government stated that it would target those who need it most and capture 95% of the self-employed. However, as stated in our previous correspondence, this is not the experience of our members and the wider music sector. The ISM has made a series of recommendations for how the SEISS can be expanded to protect thousands of musicians who have fallen through the cracks. We ask that the government seriously considers these proposals:

  • Lower the threshold of income from 50% to 25%;
  • Remove the £50,000 cap;
  • Allow graduates, those who have been on sick leave or maternity leave, or those who have returned to work in the past three years to discount years that do not reflect their current position;  Extend eligibility to freelancers operating through short-term PAYE contracts;
  • Extend eligibility to individuals who have been self-employed for less than a year or provide equivalent meaningful support to these workers;
  • Extend eligibility to individuals who operate under a Limited Company and take dividends as a source of income or provide equivalent meaningful support to these workers.

The CJRS has also provided much-needed support for music organisations, businesses and their employees. However, we are very concerned about the government’s plans to scale back furlough contributions, a decision that risks the long-term health of music industry. With social gathering restrictions set to stay in place for the foreseeable future, there will be no immediate return to business as usual for large parts of the music sector, especially the thousands of music venues that require near full capacity crowds to turn a small profit. For example, the Southbank Centre, which is the UK’s largest arts and cultural organisation, warned that it will have used up its financial reserves by September, forcing its closure until April 2021 unless it gets further government support.

Many businesses will simply not be able to afford employer contributions risking bankruptcy and redundancies. We therefore ask that the government urgently reconsiders this decision and extends the furlough scheme in full.

We also ask that the government begins a national conversation about a long-term financial support package for the music sector. In Germany, for example, the Federal Government unveiled a €50 (£54 billion) aid package for artists and cultural businesses hit by COVID-19. To protect our fantastic creative industries, which generates over £111bn for the UK economy and contributes so much to the UK’s global reputation, the UK Government must do to the same.

Thank you for your support and I hope these issues can be resolved to protect musicians and the wider creative sector during this crisis.

Yours sincerely

Deborah Annetts
Chief Executive
Incorporated Society of Musicians