Since the closure of the arts sector, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) has been a critical lifeline for artists and arts workers. The scheme has been welcomed by NCFA, however with social distancing and other measures likely to remain for some time to come, a number of issues must now be be addressed. While NCFA welcomes the recent extension of the PUP, the tiered reduction of the PUP payment will have a disproportionate impact on freelance artists and arts workers. More than 68% of NCFA membership currently availing of the PUP will have their payment reduced by September 17th.
Ireland already has one of the highest costs of living in Europe. Forcing skilled artists and arts workers to live on as little as €203 per week while the industry is closed down, through no fault of their own, will cause permanent damage to the cultural landscape of Ireland. This will lead to a significant talent drain and it may take years to recover.
The arts sector is unlikely to return to sustainable levels of work by April 2021 – the proposed end of the PUP scheme. We call on the government to consider what will happen to artists and arts workers at that point. NCFA is ready to work with Government to identify meaningful interventions that will address a prolonged closure of the industry.
Many artists and arts workers are still not able to access the PUP, including those who were on Jobseeker’s at the outset of the pandemic, those who have been availing of Maternity Benefit, and those over the age of 66, who do not have private pensions, or may not have qualified for the contributory state pension, and rely on employment income solely.
The future of Irish arts is at stake. Investment in the sector, in the form of funding and grants, is hugely welcomed. However, it is imperative to also protect the most vulnerable part of the arts eco- system: the individual artist and freelance arts worker. These individuals form the backbone of the arts sector and, according to a recent study, 89% of them are living in financial uncertainty.
The arts, through books, music, film, and TV, provided respite and escape during lockdown. It has never been clearer that we will all lose out when artists can no longer produce their work, or when there is creative flight from Ireland.
The proposed changes to the PUP do not recognise the unique and precarious nature of the employment conditions of many freelance artists and arts workers. We hope that this document will be useful in clarifying some critical issues, while also highlighting potential solutions. We are ready to work with Government on this important matter.