ALCS response to 2021 Spring Budget

05 March 2021

This month’s Spring Budget announcement saw a very welcome, much-needed boost to the Cultural Recovery Fund, but individual freelancers are unfortunately still likely to miss out. The Government also ignored calls by ALCS and other organisations for an increase of the PLR pot and for the removal of VAT on audiobooks.

We were pleased to see that many who were newly self-employed in 2019/2020 will now receive support under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). However, all the other SEISS eligibility criteria remain unchanged, so this does not address ongoing problems experienced by many creative freelancers who remain unable to access appropriate support. This includes the scheme’s failure to account for ‘portfolio careers’ – with income from a mix of different contracts and sources, many of which have simply dried up during the Covid crisis.

The Budget is therefore a missed opportunity to properly review eligibility for SEISS. The 600,000 people this change will help are barely a fifth of the 2.9 million hard-working, genuinely self-employed people estimated by the National Audit Office to have fallen through the gaps in support so far. The Targeted Income Grant Scheme (TIGS), produced cross-party in Parliament, would have been a costed and fair way to address the five main groups of workers who have lost out previously, as opposed to the small extension presented in the Budget, which is mainly due to administrative timing.

We were encouraged by the announcement of the further £300 million for the Cultural Recovery Fund, which will go a long way to support the arts as we emerge from the pandemic. However, we are aware that previously, little of this fund has been allocated towards the literary field or has gone to support writers as individual creators, many of whom are freelancers without attachment to an institution.

It was also disappointing to see that the Treasury has not responded to calls to increase the Public Lending Right (PLR) fund. Writers’ incomes have suffered, falling 42% in real terms from 2006 to 2018, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem. An increase in PLR would be an appropriate way to support authors when a significant proportion of their income streams has been further harmed by the pandemic. The overall fund has not been increased for many years and falls behind considerably behind that of other countries – Germany and France currently manage funds that are effectively double the value of the UK’s. We had hoped the Government would take this opportunity to support UK authors.

Audiobooks have been very popular during the Covid-19 crisis, particularly with home learning, and remain an accessible way for all to engage in reading. We were hopeful that the Treasury would extend its removal of VAT from ebooks to include audiobooks; this has been an issue for which ALCS has strongly campaigned and we are disappointed that the Chancellor has decided not to take action at this time.

Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of ALCS, commented:

“We appreciate the extra boost in funding given to the Covid Recovery Fund. However, we are painfully aware that the Chancellor has not addressed the more pressing issues faced by our members and the wider pool of creative freelancers, such as reforming SEISS eligibility criteria.

We have consistently campaigned for an increase to the PLR fund over the past year, offering a reasonable and targeted way in which the Government could offer support to authors who have been central to keeping the country entertained through books and programmes during the pandemic. We will continue to engage with the Treasury on these issues.”