Sunak sits out on freelancers again; MU complains

Chancellor's new £1bn fund takes no account of those who work ad-hoc to provide improvised jazz solos, the epitome of fleet-footed enterprise

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Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan and Max Roach, doing their bit for the night-time economy, at the Three Deuces, New York around August 1947. Photo by William P. Gottlieb

As Christmas events are cancelled and venues experience reduced audiences following new government measures against the Omicron variant of Covid-19, musicians have been finding gigs withdrawn.

In the face of what has been called “a lockdown by stealth” UK chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced financial support for leisure businesses and their employees but, as in 2020, one kind of employee, the freelance musician, seems to have been forgotten again.

Sunak said the new support is comparable to the grants offered to businesses that were fully closed earlier this year, but in making no provision for the self-employed jazz player, for whom Christmas can be the most fruitful time of year, it falls short of last year’s support for the arts.

The Musician’s Union has today issued a call to the Chancellor to make urgent provision for freelancers, saying that its latest research shows that 86% of musicians have had work cancelled due to Omicron and that 41% of musicians state that they expect to earn under 25% of their usual income during the next two months.

MU general secretary Horace Trubridge said: “This is a particularly busy time for our members and many musicians will have been relying on the festive period and the new year to provide much-needed funds following the devastating effects of lockdown and the well-publicised difficulties. It is absolutely crucial to their survival that the Government recognises the economic abyss that our world-class players, performers, writers and teachers are facing. They need support and they need it now.”

The union says it wrote to the Chancellor last Friday, pointing out the need for support for freelancers affected by the new variant. It seems the jazz bug hasn’t yet caught on at Number 11.