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Irish plan to give artists £270 a week should be copied in the UK, say campaigners

Under a pilot scheme, 2,000 Irish artists will get £270 a week to focus on their work. Campaigners are calling for a similar programme to be rolled out in the UK.

Musicians playing on the streets of Ireland.

Musicians playing on the streets of Ireland. Photo: Robin Hutton

As Ireland introduces a basic income for artists to help the sector recover post-pandemic, UK organisations have called on the British government to follow suit.

The Irish government on Wednesday announced it will give a basic income of €325 (£270) a week to 2,000 artists, actors and musicians, to support the creative industries in the wake of coronavirus. As in the UK, arts and entertainment venues in the Republic of Ireland were closed for long periods due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Announcing the pilot scheme, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: “This initiative has the potential to be truly transformative in how Ireland supports the arts in the future. Ireland’s arts and culture in all its distinctiveness and variety is the well-spring of our identity as a people and is internationally recognised.

“The Basic Income for the Arts is a unique opportunity for us to support our artists and creatives in the sector and ensure that the arts thrive into the future.”

Mark Pemberton, chief executive of the Association of British Orchestras, was among those who called for a similar scheme in the UK.

“I am delighted for colleagues in Ireland but I can’t see this happening here,” he added. “Asks for more government funding in the UK have been falling on deaf ears because we have a belt-tightening Conservative government.” 

Pemberton said artists have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In 2021, a report by Sheffield University showed that the arts sector suffered from a 60 per cent decline in output due to social distancing rules and lockdowns. Restrictions led to 55 percent of jobs being furloughed in the sector, while many creatives are self-employed.

“It has been a very difficult two years for self employed artists who have had next to no income. Irregular income is always an issue for artists as work comes and goes,” he added.

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Among the aims of the Irish programme is a recognition of the important role of the arts in Irish society. The Irish government said the pilot programme also places value on the time spent developing a creative practice and producing art.

For classical musicians this is particularly relevant, said Pemberton. “In the world of classical music people have worked hard for many years and often gained a high level of qualification,” he added, “for them to give up would be a waste.”

Visual artist Toby Lloyd.
Visual artist Toby Lloyd is a campaigner for a basic income for creatives. Photo courtesy of Toby Lloyd

Newcastle-based artist Toby Lloyd said it would be “great” to see a similar programme launched in the UK. As a co-founder of UBI Lab Arts, he campaigns for a Universal Basic Income for everyone in society. 

“I would fully support a universal income for artists so more people could explore their creativity,” said Lloyd. 

“The dole [unemployment benefit] in the Sixties and Seventies enabled many people to become professional. Without that financial support many artists would not have made it to where they are today.”

Lloyd said many of his peers have been forced to look for alternative incomes.

“A lot of my artist friends have had to get second jobs, most in the hospitality industry after being hit by the pandemic,” he said.

The Irish Basic Income for the Arts scheme opens for applications on April 12 and the pilot will run for three years.

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