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A cross-sector committee has backed calls for the government to appoint a commissioner to give self-employed creative people a voice.

In its Creator Remuneration report, the Commons culture, media and sport committee recommends that the creation of such a role would help freelancers negotiate better contracts and working conditions.

The report cites historical data, including Bectu’s recent report into the downturn of work for freelancers, to highlight the long-term impact of low pay, late payments,  long hours, lack of holiday or sickness pay, limited training opportunities, and unpaid work, on freelancers’ healthy work-life balance.

The committee said current conditions had convinced members of the benefits of having a champion for freelancers, who have lost out on government policy initiatives and interventions due to not being a specific category.

The commissioner role was first floated ahead of the government’s Spending Review 2020, when a coalition compromised of the Creative Industries Federation, Federation of Small Businesses, IPSE and the union Prospect called on Rishi Sunak, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, “build more resilience into this workforce and ensure no worker falls through the gaps”.

Industry voices consulted for the report made various recommendations for the scope of the role, including giving a commissioner “genuine oversight”, and ability to intervene, in policymaking in areas such as pay, taxation and benefits, pathways into industry and employment rights.

Sustainable alternatives to apprenticeship schemes, and the application of parental leave for sectors that depend on freelancers, also came under scrutiny, along with the impact of freelancers falling “through the gaps” in government support for workers during the pandemic.

The report stated: “Freelancers make up a significant portion of the creative workforce but lack a single clear voice representing their interests to Government. This has resulted in a decline in pay and conditions that will cause long-term harm to the sector.

"We recommend that the government appoint a freelancers’ commissioner, with appropriate powers and cross-departmental oversight, to advocate across Government in the interests of creative freelancers, and of other freelance and self-employed people more broadly.

'A step towards accountability'

With freelance directors facing a pay freeze, a lack of overtime pay and often six-day working weeks, Directors UK chief executive Andy Harrower said: “Having someone advocate across government in the interest of creative freelancers is a step towards accountability and away from the poor working conditions and unfair practices our members face.”

The report also outlines measures to address secondary payments for content on streaming services. It proposes a £300m ‘Smart Fund’, which would take a small payment from the sale of devices that enable the copying and storage of creative content and reroute it to ensure creators and performers are paid fairly for any work that is accessed or distributed digitally.

The committee’s chair, Caroline Dinenage, added: “If creators are no longer to be the poor relations, the government needs to play catch up by plugging the gaps in outdated copyright and intellectual property regulations and ensuring that there is a champion for the rights of freelancers, who make such a vital contribution to their industries.” 

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