The last few months will have been the most difficult many of us will have encountered in our lifetime. Up until late last year, most people weren’t even aware of Coronavirus or Covid-19, but by the time of writing this blog (August 2020) it will have affected most people across the world in so many different ways, causing untold heartbreak and suffering that will have a long-lasting legacy that, for some, will never be overcome.
My first “encounter” with C-19 was in March whilst sprawled on a sun lounger enjoying a much needed holiday in Thailand. I started reading news reports of flights being instructed to turn around mid-air and return to their point of departure, as countries starting going into immediate lock down. This was quickly followed by a succession of e-mails and messages stating that a number of future music events were either being postponed or cancelled due to the uncertainty of what was happening.
Fast forward to August and the landscape is so unlike anything anyone could have predicted, it borders on the surreal! No gigs, no rehearsals, no weddings, no concerts, no playing brass instruments indoors! No income!!!
Before I continue, I must be grateful. Grateful that I am alive, that I have not contracted C-19 and thankfully neither has any of my family nor my friends, therefore I have not suffered, as many thousands of people have truly suffered. I have not had to risk my life on a daily basis and don uncomfortable protective clothing (PPE) for hours on end in order to try and treat patients suffering from this terrible pandemic, nor have I been stranded in a foreign country (although it was touch and go getting home from Thailand!) or totally isolated from loved ones – my Mum might disagree with that latter statement, but we got there in the end.
Now to my reason for writing. This pandemic has caused another form of hardship and suffering. Regardless of whether you “do politics” or not, the harsh reality is that there has been a huge schism created between the “haves” and the “have nots”.
In an effort to maintain lock down and at the same time protecting jobs and the future economy, Chancellor of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that UK companies would be able to furlough employees, who would receive 80% of their income whilst staying at home, in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus. This seemed like a sensible idea initially, however once the criteria were scrutinised, it became apparent that this was deeply flawed, especially when it came to people who were freelancers, self-employed, company directors and those working on freelance PAYE (Pay as you earn) contracts.
Despite numerous funds and support schemes being made available, many of these above mentioned people were ineligible for ANY kind of support and sadly, I was also one of them! The Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), the Culture Resilience Fund, the Urgent Response Fund, the Stabilisation Fund for Individuals, local Council Grants, Universal Credit, Job Seekers Allowance etc. etc. etc.
So many people in fact, they number in excess of 3 million workers and are now known collectively as ExcludedUK. People, many who had spent years investing both financially and in blood, sweat and tears to establish successful businesses, or who had recently gone to “the other side” and left secure employed positions to follow their dream and run their own business. No income, no support, no hope!
Despite vociferous protests and pleading, the Chancellor was, and remains deaf to our pleas for help, despite the fact that all of us have worked and paid our taxes over the years and will be expected (rightly so) to contribute to the State taxation system in the future. So why should 3 million people be left to hang out to dry?
Over the last few months, members of ExcludedUK have not only had to endure financial hardships, whilst their family and friends around them enjoy Government support, but also the sort of bigoted and misinformed opinions that have really shown how little understanding there is of our plight and how the economy works, particularly for the self-employed. Comments such as “well you’ve enjoyed being paid cash in hand over the years, so stop whining!” or “you pay less tax than employed workers so what’s your problem?” really does cut to the quick and the inference that we are anything less than honest or transparent about our working practises, is quite frankly insulting.
To put the record straight, as a self-employed musician, I declare ALL my income for ALL the work that I do and pay my taxes as expected on time and in full, as do the vast majority of my law-abiding colleagues . Running a business means that I am the operations manager, the transport department, the marketing department, the accounts department, the customer service department and in charge of professional development and training. We DO NOT enjoy the perks and benefits of sick pay and holiday pay, we often don’t get paid on time (sometimes not at all) and we are often seen as a vehicle for extreme bartering on our rates and fees.
The retort is usually “Why are you self-employed then, get out if you can’t stand the heat?” Simply, I wouldn’t change it for the world and enjoy every minute of it “living the dream” and doing what I love, despite the above problems.
All I (and my 3 million other Excluded colleagues) ask for, is parity and justice. Not too much to ask for surely – is it?
So next time you see a family member or friend mention the Excluded in a social media post or hear it in conversation, don’t just walk on by as “it doesn’t affect me”. Please spare a few minutes to hear what that person’s struggles are, they are very real and they are possibly at breaking point. The stories that have circulated on the ExcludedUK chat groups are truly heart-breaking and if you can lend a sympathetic ear, it may have far more impact than you could ever imagine and help that person get through one day more!
My wish is that we ALL come through this safely, with our families and current jobs intact and AS EQUALS.
This blog is written as my personal story and is not intended to represent ExcludedUK or any other member of the group. There are 3 million other stories to be told!
For more details about Andrew Jones , please visit the Music for You web-site