Dear Secretary of State,
We are writing to express our deep concern about the impact the Omicron variant is having on our arts and culture sector – directly, because of soaring Covid-19 infections, and indirectly, because of the effects of new guidance to work from home and “deprioritise” social contacts.
An emergency relief fund is urgently required for individuals and businesses to endure the sudden, unexpected collapse of income they are now experiencing, at what is typically the busiest time of the year for live arts.
We recognise that efforts to protect public health and the NHS are of primary importance, and that harms from Covid-19 are being felt right across our economy and society. It is increasingly clear that the arts sector, having been one of the very hardest hit by this pandemic1, now faces a new and existential crisis from Omicron.
The unprecedented number of daily Covid cases is forcing cancellations of more and more performances, even entire productions.2 New public health guidance is causing cancelled bookings and no-shows at venues which can no longer rely on support schemes such as furlough. The Music Venue Trust has warned that grassroots venues are “on the brink of collapse”.3 Touring and production companies, which have overcome huge challenges to revive our communities and support our economic recovery, now face hammer-blow losses and uncertainty.
After the first shutdowns caused by Covid, we were thankful that your predecessor Oliver Dowden helped secure £1.57 billion for the arts sector in recognition of its particular need, value and potential. Now we look to you as Culture Secretary to ensure UK culture can survive the impacts of Omicron. We urge you to broker the comprehensive, emergency support package that is urgently needed to protect the arts, and to protect the considerable investment that has been made in the sector over the past 18 months.
We are particularly concerned about the lack of financial support for freelancers, who make up 16% of the nation’s workforce but over 70% of the arts workforce.4 Many were ineligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, most have suffered heavy income losses during the pandemic and all are still ineligible to apply to the Culture Recovery Fund.5 New cancellations because of Omicron pose a major threat to their livelihoods, on which the survival and recovery of the UK arts sector depends.
Over 38,000 freelancers have already left the sector since 2020. Without emergency support now, we risk losing even more highly-skilled people from the arts, worsening and entrenching inequalities, and further setting back the recovery of a sector which contributed £34.6 billion in 2019.6
We all appreciate the difficulty of the decisions you and the Government are now having to take, and the balance you must strike, to protect public health and the economy through the next stages of this pandemic. However, it is increasingly clear that stronger public health measures must be matched by stronger economic measures to prevent severe and lasting damage on a national scale.
With your intervention now, the UK’s cultural sector can overcome these sudden cancellations and losses, sustain the livelihoods of individuals and bounce back intact after the booster rollout is complete. Without it, the impacts of Omicron will devastate livelihoods and businesses, and irreparably damage our cultural life.
As citizens who care passionately about the benefits of art and culture in our lives and communities, we urge you now to act.