Arts and Capitalism and Self employment – a rant

I don’t usually do politics on here in a big way, but I don’t know how not to right now.

Almost everyone in my immediate family works in the arts. My dad is a musician and an examiner for ABRSM. One of my sisters works/ed at the Tobacco Factory (I’m pretty sure they’re all being laid off). My other sister is a singer and a yoga teacher. My brother-in-law works in theatre. I am a writer and proofreader. Self-employment is the norm in my family. And currently we’re all being screwed by the government. It’s very painful. I got an email this morning saying that I can have a taxable grant for 80% of my earnings. This won’t happen until June. JUNE! What, precisely, are we all meant to do until then? Do they think none of us need to eat? HMRC decides if I’m eligible or not. They will, at some point, get in touch to let you know that you are eligible to apply. They are at least balancing the average of your earnings across three years, but what people who’ve just started trading as self employed are meant to do is anyone’s guess. Starve?

Also, some people are saying (and it’s not clear) that doing something like, for example, trying to get a delivery driver job to keep yourself going between now and June will mean you are no longer eligible for the grant. It’s not clear if this is true. There was both a buzzfeed and a guardian article about it though, so maybe it’s true? Where are we meant to voice these concerns and ask these questions? And again, how are we all meant to survive through to June? I’m likely to be okay, others are not. Many self-employed people in the arts are living right on the edge all the time. 100% of what we usually earn is not enough. A possible 80% of what we earn on average, in three months time is definitely not enough. More than I was expecting from this Tory government, yes, but enough to keep people going in this crisis? No. It feels, simply, as though we are being left out to die. I shouldn’t be surprised, because the Tory government have been leaving people out to die for years. It’s just, I suppose, that as this is a pandemic part of me really hoped to see some shred of humanity from them.

How are we all meant to feed ourselves, and pay rent or mortgages, and keep the lights on, for three months with no income and no certainty that we’ll even get this taxable grant at the end?

I am, on no level, disputing that what is essential right now is keeping food and medical supplies flowing. There are lots of suddenly jobless self-employed people who’d love to help with that, if we had any security whatsoever about what was happening with this damn grant.

The government has the power to do something. They’ve passed the Coronavirus Bill, which some experts are saying is the biggest reimagining of state powers in ever and that it has the potential to constitute a serious infringement of certain human rights (source)(source). Parts of this bill will be in action for up to two years and can be renewed beyond that.The UK Human Rights Committee is currently looking into this. So they’ve passed this fecking bill, which means they are capable of action. So how hard would it be to pass some kind of emergency legislation that stops all rent for three months? That means we can have guaranteed energy for three months? That means all mortgage payments could be stopped for three months? If they’re going to take three damn months to get around to giving any of us any kind of financial aid, then they could have the decency to help us out for three months. Even better, they could just go ahead and institute an Universal Basic Income for everyone. But they won’t, because they are ideologically opposed to giving anyone something for nothing. Because capitalism is based on the idea of capital over lives, and the economy is more important. The idea of simply giving people money or aid with no strings attached, because they need it to stay alive, is so against capitalist thinking, and Tory thinking in particular, that they are just going to hang us all out to dry rather than do this. People who would survive this pandemic with help are not going to make it through without.

And Boris Johnson can hope that companies will do the right thing all he wants, but unless he passes some actual legislation we know that most companies won’t. My electricity company is gonna keep charging me, my landlord still needs paying, the council tax is still due, the water bill is still due, and I still have to buy food. I am so angry that I might throw up, and furiously grief-ridden because people are dying and people are going to die and it seems like those in power do not care enough to help. A lot of us can’t work, have seen the industries we work in vanish in the last week. And people, individual people, continue to be excellent. I’ve seen writers giving away their books for people to read in isolation and musicians releasing free songs and organising online jamming sessions and poets releasing new poems and actors making comforting videos and giving them away and with the exception of the very famous, most of us are poor. And this it to say nothing of the nurses and doctors on the frontline of all of this.

Most of us are poor and right now most of the artists I know are giving things away to try to keep people’s spirits up, and stop people losing all hope in isolation, and help people feel as though there is still a community out here. And all those excellent people you’ve seen releasing their books for free or their music for free or their artwork are likely to be self-employed and poor and panicking and wondering if they’re going to make it through this alive, if their friends and colleagues are going to make it alive, if there’s gonna be any arts to come back to after this and trying to deal with the pain of incontrovertible proof that our government actually just doesn’t care if we die.

I don’t have an ending point. I’m just angry. I’ll probably write to my MP, but I have very little hope of her even responding to me as she hasn’t the last three times I’ve written.

I guess, so you’re not totally bummed out by me, I’ll leave you with this song my dad wrote:

You can buy me a drink if you want, but you could also write an angry message to your MP and ask just what they are playing at with this self-employment shite. Or something that’s more relevant to you if you’re not self-employed.
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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nimue Brown
    Mar 28, 2020 @ 21:08:21

    Well said. Sharing in the rage and the frustration.


  2. darrack1
    Mar 30, 2020 @ 10:29:38

    merry am I okay to reblog this ?


  3. darrack1
    Mar 30, 2020 @ 15:01:47

    Reblogged this on The Passing Place and commented:
    While this is luckily not my own situation, Meredith Debonnaire expresses the situation many writers, artists, musicians and plenty of other self-employed people find themselves in, in the face of the current reality of virus Britain.
    It is a compelling, mildly heartbreaking and informative read.


  4. Trackback: Letter to my MP – self-employment again | Meredith Debonnaire
  5. Trackback: Everything is political | Meredith Debonnaire

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