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Music and night-time industries welcome extension of COVID furlough, but say issues still need to be addressed

By | Published on Friday 6 November 2020


The music industry and night-time entertainment sector have welcomed news that financial support for those unable to work in the UK as a result of ongoing COVID restrictions has been extended.

There are two main schemes, one for employees usually referred to as the furlough scheme, and one for the self-employed called the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Employers in the UK live music and night-time entertainment sectors have relied heavily on the furlough scheme to date, while many of the high number of freelancers in the music community have also utilised SEISS (or, at least, those that qualify for it have).

The two schemes have evolved since the original lockdown began in March, becoming less generous as the months have gone by. Replacement schemes were then due to kick in this month reducing the available subsidy yet again (albeit to a lesser extent than originally planned after a bit of a backlash).

However, when it was confirmed last week that a new national four week lockdown would go into force across England in a bid to tackle a second surge in COVID cases, it was announced that the original more generous furlough and SIESS programmes would be reinstated for the month of November.

Those more generous programmes have now been extended further, with furlough available until 31 Mar and a higher level of SEISS funding applying for the next three months, not just this month.

Given that the live music and night-time entertainment sectors are still likely to be facing huge challenges even if the current more strict lockdown in England does end after four weeks, representatives for both industries have welcomed the extension. However, they add, more needs to be done.

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, said last night: “While the crisis deepens and we move into a national lockdown for 28 days, we welcome the somewhat belated furlough update until March next year. The furlough scheme will absolutely help preserve jobs within the sector”.

However, he added, many night-time businesses face other challenges beyond paying wages, with rent a particular concern. Other COVID-related rules stop landlords from taking action over unpaid rent until the end of the year, but that doesn’t stop those businesses from having to deal with ever-mounting rent-related debts, Kill pointed out.

“We appreciate that safety is paramount”, he added, “but at some point we’ve got to consider the human element here and the immense pressure that individuals, venues owners, staff and freelancers are under at the moment given the current financial, economic, cultural and social wellbeing environments that are being presented by government, particularly around our sector”.

Meanwhile, Deborah Annetts of the Incorporated Society Of Musicians also welcomed the latest extensions. “We are delighted that the government has extended the coronavirus job retention scheme until the end of March and is increasing support for the self-employed to 80% of trading profits across the November to January period”, she said.

“Today’s announcement is the third change to SEISS in a short period”, she then noted, “following the ISM’s tireless campaigning on this issue. We told the government that their initial approach was insufficient and they have listened, benefitting thousands of musicians who cannot work while performance venues remain closed”.

That said, a key issue remains that many music industry organisations have been campaigning on ever since the COVID shutdown began, that being all the freelancers who do not qualify for SEISS, either because of the way they have structured their self-employment or because of a relatively recent change in circumstances.

“As we have said each time the government changes the level of SEISS”, Annetts added, “the grant only benefits those able to receive it. An estimated three million self-employed workers continue to be excluded from receiving it at all, so expanding the eligibility criteria remains essential for preventing an exodus of highly skilled talent from our world-leading arts sector”.