Letter 3 from Kathy Dyson to MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge

Greetings all, I hope you’re well and coping under the circumstances. Below is a third letter
to Horace Trubridge the GS of the MU about the effects of the corona virus on MU members
and some proposals in the light of changing information. Please share, especially MU
members and concerned musicians.

Dear Horace,

I hope you are well. I’m glad that the MU has had more presence both online and in the media since I first wrote to you. There has been a palpable sense of urgency and agency that was missing at the start of the crisis. And, though we clearly still lack a proper short, medium and long-term strategy to deal with the current situation, things are now looking slightly better for some members. However, I don’t feel that we are out of the woods yet or are in a position to crow on Twitter ‘We’ve won!’ – there are numerous hurdles to overcome in the coming weeks and months and members financial position has only improved in theory – income support that works for all members is months away. Also, unlike some, musicians cannot work at all now, except online and will be struggling with the effects of a global depression once/if they are able to return to live work. This is excellent from a health perspective, reducing the risks, which is most important, but devastating from a income one – many venues and organisations will have gone to the wall and this will make economic recovery difficult. We cannot bank on things returning to normal and indeed, the normal for many musicians was never that great in the first place.

It seems to me that there are now two priorities: the first to ensure that musicians are kept
afloat over the next few months and the second to plan for the likely global recession that is actually beginning now. It is vitally important that the MU join with other industry bodies to create much larger emergency fund and to lobby for universal basic income which will alleviate the issues that I describe below and allow for future recovery. Looking at the options currently: income support is available through Universal Credit and via HMRC for self employed members, actually accessing it though is going to be difficult for the following reasons:

  1. Nearly 500k people attempted to register for UC in the first few days after the Chancellor’s announcement, with 105,000 on one day alone, or 500 people a minute. As they all need to be interviewed in person on the phone, there is a massive backlog already and the system is struggling to cope. This is because over the past decade the Tories have systematically cut funding and staff in all aspects of the welfare state including social security.
  2. In the event that you are able to apply for UC, it takes 5 weeks to come through at £94.00 a week. You can apply for an immediate loan of £200 which you have to pay back from the £94pw over the following year, but as has been pointed out at length, this is not enough to live on. (Perhaps the wider populous will now begin to understand what the poorest and most vulnerable people in society have been having to cope with and campaign to change it. Figures released by the Trussell Trust, the largest UK food bank provider, revealed last year
    that demand for food banks increased dramatically in areas where families had been relying on the universal credit system the longest, which the charity said was mainly due to the fiveweek wait).
  3. Many members without savings will have to rely on UC whilst income support for the self employed comes on stream in June. As a completely new system, this is fraught with problems. Even assuming that the government can set it up in time, many members are ineligible because of their part-employed status, and the fact that there is a £50k upper income level cap. Whilst to many this may see high enough, we know that many classical and theatre musicians in London ( and other large metropolitan areas) are on this level of income or higher. The point is not how much is being earned but rather what level of income is
    needed to survive over the next few months. For a sole earner in London or any big city, with a high rent or mortgage and kids, £50k is not a lot to live on. The proposed scheme also excludes the recently self- employed (perhaps those musicians who have left college last year) and those who have created limited companies.
  4. Although a number of music organisations have stepped into the breach now to provide immediate support, their funding is likely to be insufficient over the coming months and again, is not eligible to all members. The PRS emergency fund provides £1000 one off payment to members who have earned £500 in royalties the previous year – many will not have earned that much. Help Musicians have launched a £5m fund for a one – off payment of £500 which could go to up to 10,000 members, which is still only a third of our membership. As you mentioned our own £1m fund will be used up very quickly, indicating
    just what dire financial straits many musicians are in already.
  5. Given the above, we need to strongly campaign for Universal Basic Income in order to alleviate the complexity and delays explained above and to ensure that everyone gets income support in a relatively short space of time. There are 5m self – employed workers and 6m small businesses and many of them are falling through the cracks of the chancellor’s schemes, including some of our members. They are the most seriously threatened by the implications of the shut down and the subsequent depression. A Universal Basic Income payment of £1000 a month (for example) would give a direct and instantaneous burst of financial relief to millions without the need for complex bureaucracy, eligibility criteria and proofs of previous income. £1000 a month per person would cost the govt £66bn a month, a fraction of the £500bn bailout needed in the 2008 crisis. it is politically feasible, economically viable and most of all puts the money into the pockets of those most in need, which will also stimulate local economies. It’s simplicity is it’s strength.
    So, whilst all of the emergency funds are of course welcome and may keep the wolf from the door for some members for a little while, many members are likely to be destitute in the coming months. To reiterate: a much larger emergency fund is needed and I propose again that you leverage the high level music industry connections that you claim to have, to achieve this. In addition we need some heavy duty lobbying of the government to help musicians and
    the arts. The German government have given E50billion to their cultural sector for both individuals and organisations to tide them over through the crisis and the ensuing economic depression. This compares to £160m from the Arts Council here and this is chicken feed to the amount of funding going in to bolster other sectors of the economy. We need to be much bolder and stronger both in in our vision of what musicians need to thrive and in campaigning
    for them and to build a powerful cultural sector alliance with all the other music
    organisations, sister unions and allies fight for members.
    All the best,

Published by MU Members for Change

MU Members For Change is a broad and diverse coalition of members within the Musicians’ Union. It exists to facilitate communication between members; to aid the delivery of member voice to the Executive Committee; and to promote democracy within the Musicians’ Union. Enquiries should be sent to: mumembersforchange@gmail.com

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