It’s time to fix it for freelancers

In May, ALCS called on the government to introduce a Freelancer Commissioner to the Department for Media, Culture and Sport. CEO Barbara Hayes explains why this is urgently needed to address deep-rooted issues facing self-employed writers.

I’ve worked at ALCS for 18 years and am consistently in awe of the profound impact our members have on the cultural, social and economic makeup of the UK. Writers are integral to how we see ourselves; providing insights into different walks of life and helping us to understand the world around us. We see this in sectors as diverse as television, education, journalism and academia.

ALCS exists to support, champion and fight for authors. Our purpose, beyond the payments we make, is to protect the rights and livelihoods of writers and ensure they can continue making these invaluable contributions to society. We advocate for our members to improve the conditions in which writers work.

This is why in May 2023 we urged the Government to introduce a Freelancer Commissioner, which was then debated in the House of Lords. Among all the different challenges weathered by our members, a consistent struggle has been problems that arise as a result of being self-employed.

Freelancing often goes hand in hand with being a writer, allowing you the freedom and capacity to work on a variety of projects and manage your own time. It plays a critical role in the wider creative industries where 32% of the workforce are self-employed, more than double the national average.

Despite comprising of a large proportion of the workforce, the self-employed have always been left wanting when it comes to government policy provision. In 2017, the Creative Industries Federation found that “the self-employed in the creative industries feel invisible to policymakers”. We have heard from members that issues around tax rules, skills provision and working rights have been ongoing frustrations.

The pandemic illustrated the deep structural issues faced by freelancers. Thousands of freelance workers were unable to access government support schemes as they were unable to meet the strict criteria for proving their income. This had an impact on the diversity of writers within the sector, with some being disproportionately affected. The Centre for Cultural Value found the number of female freelancers in the publishing sector fell by around 14% by the end of 2020 while there was a rise of 15% for men.

Our commissioned research into authors’ earnings shows the precarious position that freelancers are in. We charted a real-terms decline in median earnings among self-employed primary occupation authors of 38.2% since the last survey in 2018.

This is unsustainable. In the US, writers are striking for better conditions and pay. Yet, as our recent interview with screenwriter and actor Matthew Jacobs Morgan highlighted, UK writers often face even worse conditions. Without urgent action, we can expect to see similar unrest and instability.

We want to ensure that writing remains a diverse profession open to all backgrounds and that your value as freelancers is taken seriously by policymakers. This is why we will continue to call on the Government to introduce a Freelancer Commissioner to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

There is a desperate need for a dedicated channel to engage with the freelancing workforce. A Freelancer Commissioner would bridge the information gap and allow for the introduction of effective and inclusive policy. We will continue pushing this campaign forward to give the creative freelance workforce the attention it deserves. Let’s fix it for freelancers.

If you have experienced any issues related to being self-employed, we would love to hear from you. Your real-life experiences can be an effective tool for persuading policymakers. Please contact