Author: Luke Alcott

All Party Writers Group sets out the impact of the pandemic on authors’ earnings and proposals for future recovery

Supporting authors and writers through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond: read the report here.

The All Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) has laid bare Covid-19’s devastating impact on the livelihoods of the UK’s authors and writers and, in its latest report published today, has set out a ‘Ten Point Plan’ to help post-pandemic recovery.

The report is the latest calling for further targeted support for the country’s fragile creative and cultural sectors beyond the emergency funding so far, and for better engagement by Government with the creative workforce itself, including the vast number of freelancers, and not just industry.

It follows the APWG’s 2018 inquiry into the already parlous state of authors’ earnings. In compiling the report, the Group drew widely on membership surveys and held an inquiry session in November 2020, with witnesses from across the literary sector including authors, playwrights and leading writers’ representatives such as the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the Society of Authors, Writers Guild of Great Britain and Association of Authors’ Agents.

The session focused on challenges authors had experienced since the start of the pandemic, including cancelled commissions, loss of personal appearances during lockdown, the closure of high-street bookshops and the gaps in Government support, which failed so many freelancers.

The report advances a series of recommendations for the Government to implement to ensure that writers can feel more secure, and supported, in carrying on creating works for the British public, and in contributing to the revived success of the UK’s cultural and creative industries.

The recommendations include:

  • Establish a ‘Creators Council’, as a clear line of communication between the Government and the creative workforce, including freelancers, to assist policy-making and recovery.
  • Fair and modern contract rights for authors in the digital age.
  • Protect and promote the UK’s effective copyright system amid online exploitation.
  • Secure ongoing targeted support for the creative industries after the pandemic, to help recovery and enable career development.
  • Review the gaps in Government support for freelancers, and reform tax and benefit rules.
  • Remove VAT on audiobooks to establish a truly level playing field with printed publications.
  • Increase funding for the Public Lending Right scheme to reward authors for library book loans.
  • Improve access to grants, beyond venues, to better help authors and individual creators.
  • Increase opportunity, with more development support for writers beyond London.
  • Create a level playing field between high-street and online booksellers, which has become even more unbalanced through the Covid-19 crisis.

Writers are central to the creative economy in the UK, helping to produce the stage plays, television, film and books we all enjoy despite being often overlooked. The recommendations made in the report will also help to address inequalities, exacerbated over the last year for writers.

The APWG heard in the last inquiry that authors’ earnings had declined by 42% from 2005 to 2018 in a survey by ALCS, which helps to support the Group.

Further to this, surveys by the Society of Authors in 2020 discovered that 65% of writers had lost income during the first half of the Covid-19 pandemic, with more losses expected. Testimonies from witnesses, including children’s author Dawn Finch, discussed the impact, explaining that income sources on which many writers rely had simply been wiped out, leaving their future uncertain.

There is also widespread concern that the impact on earnings will further affect diversity within the industry. Writers are typically freelancers, and much-criticised gaps in eligibility for government support, such as the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), have meant large numbers have been unable to access funds to sustain themselves during the pandemic. The same has also happened with grants and loans for individuals, beyond the support focused on venues.

The report follows studies by the Royal Society of Literature and statistics from DCMS that suggest writing as a profession, and the creative industries more broadly, are disproportionately a career path for those who already have independent means.

Poppy Corbett, inquiry witness and playwright, said:
“This is a real issue in terms of inclusion and diversity as, frustratingly, SEISS only applies to authors who can afford to be self-employed full time and who do not need any other supplementary income, so there’s a danger in losing talent forever from the theatre industry.”

On the release of the report, Giles Watling MP, Chair of the All Party Writers Group, commented:
“With this new inquiry, we can see the need to act to support the creative workforce across the country. Throughout the UK, authors have ensured that we have the books, film, television and dramatic works to help us through the pandemic and to support the next generation. We need to make sure that authors are fairly rewarded and can keep doing the fantastic work they do.”

Read the full report here.

All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group confirms Giles Watling MP as its Chair

On 9 September, the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) met to confirm Giles Watling MP as its Chair. Mr Watling took over as Acting Chair of the group after Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP left the position to become Minister for Media and Data within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.

Mr Watling has a long interest in the creative industries with a background in the performing arts, primarily as an actor. He has also run theatres, produced shows, has written for film and television and has been a director for the commercial touring circuit. In Parliament, he continues to champion the arts and joined the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group to ensure writers’ rights are recognised and rewarded. Before becoming its Chair, Mr Watling took a key role in the APWG inquiry into authors’ earnings; the report of which urged the Government to establish a ‘Creators’ Council’, provide ongoing support for the creative industries upon withdrawal from the European Union and to support high-street booksellers.

Looking at the priorities for the group, Mr Watling said:

“Our inquiry into authors’ earnings showed that the UK’s excellent creators faced a difficult situation even before the impact of COVID-19, which is expected to have a major effect on our creative industries. We made suggestions to the Government that were necessary then and we must see where these measures are urgently needed to ensure our creators and creative industries can continue to succeed through these difficult times. We also hope to look at opportunities to ensure the interests of authors are represented across the country. Too often opportunities in the creative industries are tied to London even though creative talent is found across the country and as it stands, too many communities are left out and opportunities are missed.

I have been involved with this group for some time, and I am pleased to have been confirmed as Chair. This is a well-supported and established group in Parliament, that does some excellent work. I will continue to push the Government on support for writers and the wider creative arts.”

DCMS Select Committee Calls for Creators Council

As part of its ongoing inquiry, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has released its Impact of COVID-19 on DCMS sectors: First Report.

Among other measures this report calls for the establishment of a Creators Council. The APWG called for a Creators Council to be established in Supporting the Writers of Tomorrow, its report into authors earnings.

Authors organisations have welcomed the DCMS Select Committee report.

Commenting on the DCMS Select Committee report, ALCS Deputy Chief Executive Barbara Hayes said:

“We are very pleased to see that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has included the establishment of a ‘Creators Council’ in its recommendations to Government. A ‘Creators Council’ would be an important channel to ensure the Government hears from the UK’s brilliant creators and their representatives and draws on their experience to ensure good policy for our culture and creative industries.

Before the pandemic, studies had shown authors’ incomes are in decline, and evidence shows declining incomes would harm the variety and diversity of works created across our country. It is clear from the evidence presented so far that the pandemic could make this situation even more severe, so we welcome the committee’s calls for targeted measures to support the UK’s creative community. With better policy, we can ensure the UK’s authors are fairly rewarded for their contribution to society.”

Writers Guild of Great Britain General Secretary Ellie Peers said:

“The bleak picture that this report paints comes as no surprise – since the earliest days of lockdown our members have been telling us about the devastating effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on their income and livelihoods.

“We are pleased to see that DCMSC has listened to WGGB, our sister trade unions and other industry bodies, in some of its key recommendations to Government, and we welcome the proposed extension and expansion of SEISS to ensure no creative is left behind; a Creators Council to represent the freelance creative workforce at Government level via their creative trade unions and other member organisations; a proper roadmap for the reopening of arts venues; and fiscal measures such as tax relief and VAT exemptions to support the theatre sector, whose lights went dark almost overnight with little notice or indication of how they might come back on again.

“We look forward to working with Government on the detail of all these proposals. We will continue to campaign for the establishment of a New Commissions Fund in theatre – even when venues reopen and postponed productions are performed. A dedicated commissions fund is needed now to enable theatres/producers across the UK, who are likely to have become more risk averse, to continue to commission new, original work from writers.”

Regarding its submission to the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry, Society of Authors Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said: 

“This is another really detailed report addressing the needs of publishing, theatre, music and film as we move towards what we all hope will be a period of sustained economic recovery.

“As further details of trade talks with the EU, Australia and the US emerge, I am pleased to see us renew calls for maintenance of world-leading intellectual property standards so that creative professionals can earn a proper living from their work.

“I hope that MPs of all parties will put pressure on the Government to support our cultural and creative industries, and to come forward with further details of how it intends to divide up its £1.57 bn stimulus package as soon as possible.

“I also hope that we can continue to work with ALCS and others in pushing for the Government to be bold in its Autumn spending review so that any ongoing needs across the cultural and creative industries – and among the freelance and self-employed creatives who are so vital to them support – are meaningfully addressed.”