Coronavirus support loophole leaves many UK film and TV staff without pay, say MPs

Tens of thousands of film and TV production staff left jobless by the coronavirus shutdown must be included in the chancellor’s coronavirus support package, an influential group of MPs has argued.

The cross-party digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee has written to the Treasury urging a rethink on Rishi Sunak’s measures so that more self-employed people are eligible for income support.

Sunak has said the government will pay for 80% of the wages of employees that are furloughed by companies under the coronavirus job retention scheme, and the same proportion of profits for self-employed people, with universal credit a final backstop.

However, the Film and TV Charity estimates up to half of the 50,000 staff that work in film and TV production, from directors and camera operators to prop makers and researchers, are ineligible for any financial support under these schemes.

Julian Knight, the chair of the DCMS committee of MPs, has written to the Treasury saying the “loopholes” in the government’s financial support schemes need to be closed to support the creative industries.

“We’ve heard from a number of professionals and freelancers working in our creative and cultural industries like TV, film or music who face months without income or financial support because they don’t qualify for any of the government’s schemes,” he said, in a letter to Steve Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury.

“Ministers must now look again at what help is being offered to ensure that people in these industries don’t end up paying an impossibly high price for the coronavirus crisis through no fault of their own.”

Most production staff are hired either on PAYE fixed-term contracts, many of whom are not considered eligible to apply under the job retention scheme as they were not employed on 28 February, or have limited liability companies that also do not qualify.

Restrictions on approval for universal credit, such as savings thresholds and the work status of an applicant’s partner, also apply to most in the industry.

“They float in the middle,” said Amy Fung, an administrator for the Facebook group UK Covid-19 Support for the Television and Film Industry. “They sit in a precarious position and are likely to fall through the cracks if this issue is not addressed.”

Bectu, the trade body for the entertainment industry, wrote to 280 UK production companies urging them to furlough freelancers on their payroll on 28 February.

This week Disney, which told staff working on productions including at Marvel and the Indiana Jones maker Lucasfilm last month that their contracts were terminated, performed a U-turn and has now furloughed crew so they can receive an income.

Warner Bros, which makes Harry Potter and Batman, and HBO, the company behind the Succession and Game of Thrones series, have furloughed freelance workers where possible.

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