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PUP & EWSS: High Priority for the Arts Sector

A sector that provided strength and solidarity during the lockdown is now fighting for its survival. 35,000 staff of the events industry were left with little or no means of livelihood.
“Back Lighting” by jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dublin city and county under Level 3 has now pushed the Arts sector further into the dark dungeon of survival.

As new rates of PUP take effect from today, artists around the country are left in despair with one last hope of inclusion in the 2021 Budget. With Dublin city and county being placed under Level 3 and with the threat of Level 4 looming, will the government consider reinstating PUP back to €350 for the arts sector?

Two days after NCFA’s (National Campaign for the Arts (NCFA) pre-budget submission, EPIC (Event Production Industry Covid-19 Working Group) launched its pre-budget submission, thereby marking a significant milestone in its fight for the Live Entertainment and Events sector. 

NCFA, founded in 2009 has addressed both short term and longer term issues of the arts and culture sector. On the other hand, EPIC was formed in the wake of the pandemic and fights primarily for the 35,000 staff of the unfunded events industry that was left with little or no means of livelihood and losses of approximately €2.5m per month. (Arts Council, COVID-19 Impact Survey, April 2020)

Though both volunteer-led bodies work for the arts and culture community, they do not have the same demands but one. 

NCFA’s Pre-Budget Submission, a 9 point proposal for the survival of the Irish Arts Sector called “for equitable investment in the arts sector to facilitate recovery and secure the future of Ireland’s 55,000 strong artistic and cultural community.” While EPIC’s 9 point plan is precisely aimed at representing the sector at the local and national level, NCFA’s proposal looks at the cultural aspect in the long run.

Made on behalf of thousands of members of the artistic and cultural community, both the Pre-Budget submissions are aimed at lobbying for the rights of artists reduced to living in poverty. 

A sector that provided strength and solidarity during the lockdown is now fighting for its survival. The past six months have seen an increase in houses and households resorting to arts in books, music, film, and TV to fight through the pandemic. However, despite playing a crucial role in the upliftment of society, artists are now fighting to make their voices heard.

While all parts and segments of the country have been hugely affected by the pandemic, the arts sector was the first to shut down, and remains shut as the government continues to support more and more capital projects.

“The cut of the pandemic unemployment payment is grossly unfair to people, who through no fault of their own, have lost work or income. At the same time, the government is signing big cheques to very profitable large companies. Where is the fairness in that?”

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire

Announcing the membership of the Arts and Culture recovery Taskforce, Minister Catherine Martin said:

“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the arts and culture sectors.  Live performances, theatre, music and events have all but disappeared from society.  Identifying ways of preserving and re-establishing this once-vibrant, heart-warming and magical sector will be a mammoth task….”

NCFA- Ensure artists and art work is supported through PUP and EWSS. p.c: NCFA twitter.com

#1 Support PUP and EWSS

In its proposal of short, medium, and long-term actions, NCFA has listed 9 points, each highlighting the issue, solution and the body responsible to take relevant actions. 

Highlighting the first and most important point, NCFA asks that artists and art workers must be supported through the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) until mass gatherings are allowed again and live performances and cultural events can take place at full capacity.

It has further given the solution to do so by demanding that PUP remains at  €350 for the Arts and Events sector and that measures be brought in to “allow for the blended income streams, yearly fluctuations, and short term employment opportunities as well as reassessing the age restrictions to allow older artists who have continued in employment beyond the age of 66.”

COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

From March 2020, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment was paid at a flat rate of €350 per week. However, under the July Jobs Stimulus Package, the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment that was supposed to end in August 2020 was extended by seven months.

In light of this extension and to take into account the earnings of the applicants before they had lost employment, there have been considerable changes in the rates of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

From June 29, 2020, to Sept 16, 2020, PUP was paid at two rates:

  • For those who earned less than €200 per week, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment was €203 per week.
  • For those who earned €200 or more per week, the rate of the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment remained at €350 per week.

These two rates have now been categorised further depending upon the amount that the beneficiary was paid before the Pandemic. 

From 17 September 2020 until 31 January 2021 the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is to be paid at 3 rates.

  • For those who earned less than €200 per week – the rate of PUP will be €203 per week
  • For those who earned between €200 and €300 per week – the rate will be €250 per week
  • For those who earned over €300 per week – the rate will receive €300 per week

While NCFA and EPIC have both prioritised the demand for the reinstatement of the PUP payment at €350, EPIC has also demanded the reinstatement of the support payment of €410 (being the previous level of the TWSS which is now replaced by EWSS)

The new rates from September 17, 2020 take effect from today.

“With infections rising & more #COVID19 restrictions looming,  Gov cut to PUP tomorrow is cruelly unfair. People who can’t return to work or earn a living income because of health measures are being punished, throwing “all in it together” principle out the window! Dangerous.”

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire took to Twitter to express his concern for the live entertainment and events sector.

TWSS and EWSS

Under the July Jobs Stimulus Package which is aimed at getting Ireland’s businesses up and running, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) replaced the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) from September 1, 2020, and will run until March 31, 2021.

The scheme provides a flat-rate subsidy to qualifying employers based on the number of paid and eligible employees on the employer’s payroll. 

EWSS has separate eligibility criteria than TWSS and therefore employers seeking EWSS will have to meet EWSS criteria to claim the payment.

An employer must have tax clearance to receive EWSS and must be able to prove that their business is expected to experience a 30% reduction in turnover or orders between 1 July and 31 December 2020 and that the disruption is caused by COVID-19.

A subsidy can be claimed in receipt of gross wages of between € 151.50 and € 1,462 per week during the period (Sept 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021).

The rate of weekly subsidy the employer will receive per paid eligible employee is as follows:

  • Less than € 151.50 – Nil 
  • From € 151.50 to € 202.99 – € 151.50
  • From € 203 to € 1,462 – € 203
  • More than € 1,462 – Nil

While both the groups have evident differences in demands, their fight for the ‘most affected sector’ is far from over.

The last to Reopen

Representing large parts of a population whose livelihoods depended upon the arts, NCFA stated that the sector was already suffering and the “COVID-19 crisis has further intensified these challenges, with 89% of NCFA members living with financial uncertainty.” 

While the whole country was in a lockdown and several small businesses, pubs and cafes suffered huge losses, the ‘first to close, last to reopen’ arts sector may take years to revive.

The plight of many artists and performers who were directly impacted by the lockdown has only worsened after Dublin city and the county were placed in level 3, under the Living with COVID-19 plan.

About 35,000 full-time and part-time workers in the live entertainment and events sector currently face an utterly unexpected existential crisis.

“NCFA remains concerned that much of the new Government’s proposed cultural investment through Project Ireland 2040 and Global Ireland is on capital projects and international promotion, with comparatively little investment directly in artists and the delivery of their work to audiences across the country.”

NCFA, Pre-Budget Submission

With another day gone, we’re only few days away from Budget 2021; will the Artistic and Cultural community be considered this time?

Will the fact that Ireland is nowhere closer to the EU average spend of 0.6% of GDP on arts and culture be ignored this time too?

NCFA and EPIC have submitted their Pre-Budget Submissions and have driven masses to join the #ThisIsWhoWeAre movement.

We shall see what awaits the two carefully detailed plans in the Dáil, three weeks from now.

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