The impact of Covid-19 on the film, TV and cinema industry

We’ve submitted evidence to the DCMS Select Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors.

You can read our full submission here.

The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on the film, TV and cinema industry. In March 2020 almost all production stopped; festivals were cancelled; and cinemas closed.

We’ve supported people working in the film, TV and cinema sector for almost 100 years, but never before have these people faced such difficulty in their working and personal lives. Most of those working in the industry are freelance; almost all of them are now out of work. As a result of joblessness, the lack of Government support, and isolation – of top of the already very high incidence of mental health problems affecting this workforce – we’re now beginning to see what might fairly be described as collective trauma.

In our submission we’ve drawn attention in particular to four issues affecting people who work in our industry:

  1. Poor data on the industry workforce which has inhibited effective policy-making
  2. The fact that 3 quarters of freelancers, the majority of the film and TV industry, fell through the cracks of Government support
  3. The importance of mental as well as physical wellbeing as we recover from Covid-19
  4. The strategic risks to our industry’s diversity after Covid-19

Current government figures, using the key tool of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) which measures the number of people working in a specified ‘reference week’, are likely to understate the overall scale of the workforce in film and TV by as much as 20%. Most freelancers in our industry work project to project, with people coming together for periods of time before dispersing.

PAYE freelancers, who are likely to identify themselves as employed within the LFS, remain to all intents and purposes freelance, and have not been considered within the scope of government support.

Furthermore, the term ‘freelance’ is not well-defined both within the industry and by the Government.

For all of these reasons, the interventions during Covid-19 were inadequate for our industry.

We estimate that more than half of the UK industry’s workforce, up to 100,000 people, work primarily on a freelance basis. This is up to double the government’s figure.

It’s clear that the UK industry is highly reliant on freelance labour and that this talented and diverse workforce has had to absorb huge risk, at cost to their personal lives, financial and mental wellbeing.

At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, our 1st April survey of the workforce, completed by 1,696 individuals, revealed that sole traders comprise 36% of industry freelancers. Meaning the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (‘SEISS’), contrary to its title, has helped only 36% of freelancers, at best.

Those who operate as one-person limited companies make up 28%, and those who work PAYE on consecutive, short and fixed-term contracts make up the remaining 36%. This remaining 64% of our freelance was excluded from SEISS.

In fact, our survey found that as much as 74% of freelancers didn’t expect to be eligible for either scheme. A survey conducted more recently by Women in Film and TV found that this figure had only improved slightly due to revisions in policy, to 67%. Furthermore, many believe they were unfairly underserved by the scheme either because they didn’t work a full year (as new starts or having only recently become self-employed) or because they took sick leave or maternity leave, bringing down their average income.

Unfortunately, it has taken the pandemic for both Government and industry to fully understand this model of work and appreciate the vulnerable position in which it has put tens of thousands of people.

There is a growing body of evidence of the severity of the mental health impacts of Covid-19.

Unfortunately, this comes on top of the very serious findings of poor mental health within the industry that we published in February 2020, which showed that nearly 9 in 10 people working in the industry had experienced mental health problems and that more than half had contemplated suicide.

We’re concerned about the fact that individuals from under-represented groups in the industry are being and will be disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. There’s a risk that the pandemic will send us backwards on diversity at a moment when it’s more important than ever. Our mental health research, published in February 2020, showed that the mental health of individuals identifying as BAME, disabled or LGBTQ+ was already under threat before Covid-19, and may suffer more because of it. The death of George Floyd and the civil rights crisis may add to the mental health pressures already borne by the Black community in particular.

We think that this an important area for policy intervention and we welcome the opportunity to work with the Government, the wider industry, and individuals to develop our collective understand of the impacts of Covid-19 and agree appropriate measures to prevent us going backwards on diversity, to protect the mental health of our valuable workforce and ensure the future success of our industry.

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