The Impact of Covid 19 on Illustrators

In May 2020 we asked our membership about the impact of the pandemic on their lives, with a particular focus on the financial impact.  You can read the report here.

That survey was undertaken just as the Government’s support measures were being announced. 

In October 2020, when we understood the support measures to be ending (though they were in fact extended), we held a second survey to follow up on these questions and understand the value of the Governments support measures, and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

The surveys highlight:

  • 70% report a decrease in their income since the pandemic began
  • 48% of respondents have not been eligible for the SEISS scheme. At least three quarters are unable to find support through other mechanisms.
  • There is a significant negative impact on wellbeing which suggests potential long term challenges and industry

The AOI survey findings chime with the evidence captured by Society of Authors. Taken together the surveys describe a startling picture of 2500 creative freelancers failed by the Government and impacted financially and emotionally by the pandemic.

This evidence is of huge concern short and long term.  The financial and diplomatic benefits of the creative industries must be valued as we navigate a post Brexit, post pandemic landscape.  The negative impact of the pandemic threatens wellbeing not only at an individual and industry level, but also threatens the creative brilliance and diversity of our industry.

We have consistently communicated with Government on these issues, via Treasury, DCMS and BEIS consultations, raising particular concerns;

  1. The extension to the SEISS scheme is welcome, but as clearly evidenced, it is very far from the Governments stated aim of reaching 95% of self employed workers. Remedial action must be taken to retrospectively reimburse excluded creatives.
  1. We need the SEISS scheme to be reviewed urgently, so the upcoming grants include the intended recipients. In particular to allow creative freelancers who
    -Have become self-employed on or since 6 April 2019;
    -Recorded a non-trading profit of more than 50% as a result of other (usually low-paid, part-time) work;
    -Have other income such as pension, investment or rental income and/or savings in excess of the Universal Credit threshold (currently, £16,000);
    -Have recorded a ‘lumpy’, if inconsistent, trading profit of £50,001 (or more) during the qualifying period as a result of a strong-selling and/or one-off work; and/or
    -Have taken parental leave during some or all of the qualifying period.
  2. We need the Government to listen and understand the diversity and nuance of the creative freelance community, and communicate back, through a mechanism such as the UK Creators Council.
  3. We need to protect the diversity within our industry. This can only be done with fair financial remuneration, enabling risk taking and creative investment. This can be achieved through a Universal Basic Income.
  4. We need ring-fenced resource to provide specialist mental health support for creative freelancers.

The AOI’s October report

The AOI’s most recent survey, completed in October 2020 was completed by 110 illustrators who are predominantly working full time, based in England.  Respondents were predominantly 25-44 but included younger and older respondents.

There are three key findings;

Illustrators’ income has decreased.

Since the Covid outbreak over 70% of respondents income has decreased, with a further 13% unclear of the impact on their finances. The majority estimate a decrease between a quarter to a half of their annual income, with a 12% estimating losing three quarters of their income.

Many respondents state a decrease across the breadth of illustration jobs but, where specific areas are mentioned it is primarily event based work and advertising, publishing and editorial work.

42% noted that the fees offered were roughly the same as before the pandemic, but of great concern is the 36% who note their fees have decreased. 

The approximate value of work that has been cancelled due to Covid 19 is estimated at £436,600 as of 1 October 2020.  Extrapolated across the AOI’s full membership this would be seven million pounds.  It is worth reiterating that this significant impact comes to freelancers who often have little financial resilience.

The majority (69%) were not able to mitigate their losses by moving or adapting work.

Many illustrators have had no financial support

59% are highly or extremely concerned about the impact of Covid on their wellbeing. It is likely this is linked to the fact that 98% of respondents are concerned about their household finances.

48% were not eligible for SIESS support. Only 30% successfully applied for phase 1 and 2 tranches of support. The SoA also report 30% being able to successfully apply in their survey. 93% did not benefit from changes to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme has not been relevant for the majority.

Even outside of direct Government support, 70% have not applied for funding from a governmental or private grant giving body, with 15% having applied successfully or awaiting an outcome.

Overwhelmingly respondents do not think the government is doing enough to support self employed workers. There is a frustration about the lack of respect for creatives, many of whom are long term freelancers who despite paying tax have not been supported or even recognised. The discrepancy between the JRS and the SEISS scheme underlines this point.

The majority of respondents get the majority of their income from illustration. However, 50% of those with other sources of income have seen those earning stop or reduce.

The situation threatens wellbeing

This is hugely significant, not only at a personal level.  Without good health it can be extremely challenging, and often impossible to work.  Creative practise is not like some traditional office jobs as it involves the whole person to commit.  If you are unwell, this is an impossibility.  We know that creators are finding the lack of work a challenge professionally, as their practise is not developing as it usually would.  This is exacerbated by, and exacerbates itself, wellbeing.

The reality of this is evidenced in the concerning finding that 98% are highly or extremely concerned about their ability to continue working.

Without creatives we will not have a creative industry.  We will not have art to put in the venues that the Government is working so hard to protect.

If you are concerned about your finances or wellbeing you can find dedicated resources for creative freelancers here.

19th November 2020
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