Supplementary written evidence submitted by Viva La PD
DCMSC INQUIRY INTO THE IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON CREATIVE INDUSTRIES
- This latest data supplements Viva La PD’s previous evidentiary submission (as of April 23rd) and references findings from a subsequent ‘update’ survey, completed at the start of June by 2000 TV industry participants.
- Viva La PD is an independent community group for Producer/Directors in Television. It was established in 2017 as a forum to seek and exchange professional advice and experience with peers. Viva La PD has over 1200 associates, many of whom are also part of separate unions and guilds. Viva La PD offers this evidence based on the professional expertise of its membership, which should be viewed as an important perspective for the work of this inquiry.
- This additional evidence is presented in two sections. The first briefly reiterates the context (previously laid out in full) of employment modalities of Producer/Directors in the UK television industry. This is followed by a summary of our most recent survey findings and anecdotes, highlighting the detrimental impact the government’s ongoing lack of comprehensive support is having on our sector.
A. About Employment in Television
- The television industry depends on freelancers. Most programme makers are employed on a freelance basis and make a living by balancing multiple projects during the year, through a mix of contract types.
- This model evolved not through individual choice, but as a consequence of industry deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s; which allowed production companies to scale up and down in accordance with commissions.
- Prior to the economic shock induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the creative sector was identified as the fastest growing contributor to the economy. According to the Creative Industries Federation, its growth rate was five times that of the UK economy as a whole.
- But the sector’s continued success is dependent on its freelance workforce. Failure to support freelancers will lead to drastic skill loss and have a significant impact on economic recovery after the pandemic, as well as the British entertainment industry as a whole.
B. Government Coronavirus Support
- In April 2020, a survey of nearly 1000Viva La PD members and other UK freelance television professionals found that almost 80% were out of work as a direct result of COVID-19. At the start of June, we issued a follow-up survey (completed by almost double the number of participants), which highlighted the development of some extremely worrying trends.
- Over half of freelancers have not worked at all throughout lockdown, with just 1 in 10 respondents working consistently during that same period.
- 57% of our survey’s respondents have no work on the horizon for at least the next 3 months. In combination with the 3 months already elapsed, this means most UK TV freelancers are facing the prospect of no work or financial support for half a calendar year.
- Only 55% of our respondents say they are eligible to help from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme or the similar Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme.
- Nearly 100 respondents are already selling their specialist TV production equipment to pay basic bills. Others said they are selling personal belongings, selling their house, or living off money they will owe in tax.
- In April, our findings showed that (should the current circumstances continue) over half of TV freelancers would be forced to leave the TV industry by June. Our latest survey bears this out. Almost 60% of freelancers say they are now either considering leaving the industry, have already commenced work in a different sector or have taken active steps to do so.
- Crucially, 94% of our latest respondents wanted to see a change to the way they are hired. Half would like a comprehensive review of freelance terms and conditions, in light of the precarious and exposed nature of work in the sector currently.
C. Survey Comments from Television Freelancers
Below are some written responses from the latest survey:
- Both myself and my partner work in the TV industry and we have literally lost all future work. It’s extremely worrying as we have two small children so we can’t just up and leave to a new location for work. I’m concerned that when jobs do become available, there will be so many unemployed freelancers fighting for the position, that it will be hard for either of us to get work. And when will there actually be any work Available? It seems unlikely that any dramas (in which we work) will go ahead in the next few months. It’s such an anxious time and I’ve fallen through the cracks for government help so when our money runs out my family will have to support us.
- Coming from a working-class background, I simply do not have any financial support from my family, I’m on my own. Sadly, I’m not alone, no one in TV has tens of thousands of cash in their back pocket, and unless we get back to work ASAP or the government extends its help to us, vast amounts of working class people in TV simply won’t be able to afford to stick around. We’ll all get pushed out because we can’t fall back on the bank of mum and dad. The only ones left when TV starts again, will be the middle-class white people.
- I have a 2 year old son and am expecting my second child. I had spent 4 months out of work before Covid hit due to the very quiet winter period we were just coming out of. Never before in 12 years in the industry have I ever had more than a week between contracts. When Covid struck, I suddenly found myself looking after my son full time so would have struggled to work even if there was anything about due to no childcare. I am soon to go on my second unpaid (!) maternity leave, after which I’ve decided I can’t return to being freelance. I need a staff job for security and to offer me flexibility as a mum, and it’s unlikely I’ll find this in the TV industry.
- The government policy towards limited companies is grossly unfair. Currently I receive circa £500 a month from the furloughing myself. I have a wife and 5yr old daughter. This is NOT enough to live on. I am extremely worried about the future and it is affecting my mental health.
- During a recent Skillset session, [A SENIOR FIGURE FROM A BIG PRODUCTION COMPANY] implied that freelancers would have to take a cut in rates and that it would be a 'buyer’s market' in terms of jobs. With this kind of attitude at the top of the broadcasting production companies, it is clear that the message isn't sinking in that freelancers have had a raw deal or that they prop up the industry. With so many having not received any government support, surely the industry should be instrumental in protecting our right to fair pay and a fair contract. I fear that as soon as the broadcasters and production companies stop panicking, the situation for freelancers will soon be forgotten.
- As a mature experienced BAME worker I already face many challenges maintaining a career. I am concerned that the "new" pressures will make diversity even more of an expensive idea and it will be sacrificed.
- I seem to fall through the cracks. I’m very, very scared about the future, I love TV and know nothing else as I’ve done it for 25 years since I was 18. I will be in competition with other Executive Producers as it’s obviously a pyramid of roles. It breaks my heart and scares me to think I will have to try to find another role.
- I'm giving serious thought to leaving the industry and had even set a deadline of April this year to do so. It's not just the insecurity of being freelance and never knowing if and when you'll be working. It's the lack of opportunities, mentorship and training. Companies have no reason to invest in people and it's incredibly difficult to find ways to move up the career ladder especially in today's climate when budgets and schedules have been cut.
- I’m pregnant and my earnings last tax year exceeded the 50k. However I was sick before lockdown with pregnancy sickness and couldn’t work and then I’ve been unable to work during lockdown. I’m living off the money I saved for my maternity allowance. Government maternity’s allowance is £152 a week. It’s a disgrace. Pregnant women should be able to claim extra support from the government especially as we are classed as clinically vulnerable.
- My partner and I are both paye freelancers, we both now have zero income. No help from the government and no help from our industry. We feel utterly alone. We’ve had to leave our home and move in with my partners family. Our landlord did attempt to help us with a rental holiday but we are living off our limited savings and would have spent all of them on rent, we don’t know when our industry will re open and therefore would have amounted a great debt that we wouldn’t be able to repay. I am now desperately looking at other careers as I feel so let down by an Industry that I have worked incredibly hard for.
- The lack of government support for people earning just over 50k means my family are now in a dire financial situation. We’re are in debt to family and banks and will not make mid year tax payments. It will take years to recover.
- Unless there are major changes within the next month or so, I’ll be leaving the industry. I see nothing actively being done by any production company that will actually protect their freelancers- I guarantee we will be thrown into the wolves with no proper protection in place for Covid- because all of us will be desperate for work so we will take anything.
- I have a dependent, my partner has left TV for more reliable work. That’s now a real prospect for me and many I know. I am concerned about the diversity of TV. Giving more of us a more stable future even if it’s not full time would work. Giving ltd companies help would also stop TV haemorrhaging experienced talent.
- I think this has shown how precarious our work is and the impact that has on the mental health of people in this industry is terrifying. It feels like there is no support and we are living in uncertainty. I have felt very disposable and alone and have decided to rethink my career as a result.
 1896 respondents took part in the survey.
 In total, 966 professionals at all levels took part, from Executive Producers at the peak of their career, to Runners just starting out.
 1896 respondents took part in the survey.
 Lightly edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.