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Music industry warns of 'ticking time bomb' as PUP cuts set to kick in next month

Today the Cabinet sub-committee is meeting to discuss the roadmap for the next phase of reopening.
Aug 27th 2021, 3:15 PM 10,065 18

file-photo-electric-picnic-has-become-the-focus-of-the-conflict-between-the-events-sector-and-the-government-this-week-as-ministers-scramble-to-save-this-years-festival-under-mounting-pressure-end Electric Picnic 2019 Source: Leah Farrell

THERE ARE “HUGE concerns” in the live events industry if the sector remains closed ahead of cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) next month, representatives have warned. 

As the Cabinet sub-committee meets today to consider the easing of remaining restrictions, fears are growing that musicians and performers could be locked out of employment in the sector. 

The Government announced in June that the top three rates of PUP will reduce by €50 in September.

The maximum weekly rate of €350 will reduce to €300. The current rate of €300 will reduce to €250 and the current rate of €250 will reduce to €203. 

People on the €203 PUP rate will transition to standard jobseekers benefit. 

Two further phases of rate changes are scheduled to take place from 16 November and 8 February 2022. “As PUP recipients go on to the €203 rate in each phase, they will be transitioned to standard jobseeker terms,” a spokesperson for Department of Social Protection said.

They added: “The Minister is continuing to engage with her Government colleagues on the roadmap for easing restrictions.”

However, with no clear plan yet for safely reopening the sector the Music & Entertainment Association of Ireland (MEAI) has said there remains huge uncertainty among people previously working in the industry. 

“We have massive concerns,” MEAI spokesperson Matt McGranaghan told The Journal, adding that some people in the sector will be prevented from working if they are moved to jobseekers benefit. 

“The cuts are one thing and they’re hugely unsettling but then there’s this transition for those on the lowest tier to jobseekers… you’re going to see 30% of our workforce ineligible to work.”

“If they’re forced on to jobseekers it will be the only support available for them and they’ll be prevented from engaging in self-employed work. The majority of musicians would be self-employed.”

McGranaghan said the MEAI has written to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys and Minister for Arts & Culture Catherine Martin every week since the cuts were announced in June. 

“Only in the last few weeks have we been able to engage,” he said, adding that no solution has been found yet. 

Roadmap discussions

The Cabinet sub-committee met this afternoon to discuss the roadmap for the next phase of reopening, with the live events sector tipped to be included in the Government’s plans. However the extent to which the industry will reopen remains uncertain. 

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met on Wednesday where it is understood it agreed there should be a move towards a personal responsibility approach by individuals.

However, it is understood it recommended that a target of 90% of over 16s being fully vaccinated be achieved before the full easing of all restrictions is permitted. 

This is expected to take four to six weeks.

CABINET Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin speaking to media before entering Government Buildings today. Source: Sam Boal

Arts Minister Catherine Martin has made it known that waiting another six weeks to reopen live events would be an unacceptable delay.

She said on Friday the industry has waited long enough, and the threshold is something the industry could not agree to. 

McGranaghan has called on the Government to delay the PUP cuts until a permanent solution is found or the sector fully reopens and remains open. “The Department of Social Protection has said they can’t be sector-specific and our argument is you’re being sector-specific in keeping us closed.”

DJ and musician Robbie Kitt says the issue of PUP cuts “is a ticking time bomb” for people in the music and events sector. 

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“The PUP has been an amazing help for so many performers, obviously on the operations side [of the industry] it’s been really difficult but from a performer point of view it’s been a real lifeline.

“The real problem when the artists go back to jobseekers, they’d a little bit of leeway with the PUP and you could still take on a bit of work… but if you’re returning to jobseekers you won’t be able to do that and it’s much less flexible.”

Kitt, who is a spokesperson for nightlife group Give Us The Night, said people in the industry have for months expressed their concerns to Government but “that we’re in a situation where everything seems to be last minute”.

“We’ve a music industry that has been more than willing to engage with the Government over the last few months and it’s just been ignored,” said Kitt. “Unfortunately decisions aren’t being made by people working in the sector and that’s manifesting itself in the form of cuts to the PUP.”

Fine Gael Ard Fheis 001 Minister for Social Protection, Community and Rural Development, Heather Humphreys. Source: Leah Farrell

Electric Picnic

Meanwhile, Arts Minister Martin said today she will “explore all possible options” to allow this year’s Electric Picnic festival to go ahead. 

“But my concern is for all musicians in all walks of life,” she said, adding the sub-committee will discuss the possibility of allowing indoor events with the requirement for patrons to show a vaccine pass. 

“For this sector in particular there’s been a lot of changing the goal posts and I’m with them in saying enough is enough,” said Martin. 

She said she believed her Cabinet colleagues are now aware of the urgency facing the industry and of “letting people earn a living again”.

MEAI’s McGranaghan estimated that there are currently around 5,000 people in the sector in receipt of PUP payments and who could be affected by next month’s cuts. 

“I’m always optimistic about things,” he said of the possible easing of restrictions next week, but cautioned that six weeks is too long for the industry to wait. 

I don’t want to sound cynical but this new-found zeal for wanting to help the music industry and wanting to find solutions, these solutions have been presented to Government for months.
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Cónal Thomas

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