‘Universal Credit’ - bad for freelances

NUJ MEMBERS are reporting serious problems with so-called "Universal Credit" (UC).

Many in the UK who have had variable income - a feature of freelance life - have relied on Working Tax Credit to tide them over lean months. When the government moves them onto UC they lose out, sometimes massively.

The problem is that UC assumes an "income floor" - the assumed minimum wage. It is re-assessed every month, and so doesn't take account of big fluctuations in freelances' income - as well as imposing a time penalty in effectively re-applying monthly.

This has the effect of being a "super sanction" disproportionately affecting those who are judged to be self-employed - and anyone who is a director of a company, including a company that a client required you to form in order to invoice them.

For example, say a self-employed individual has gross profit of £2452 over a four-month period for UC purposes. The income floor is applied and their UC award over this period amounts to £1116 including housing costs. As an employee they would have received £2164 - a difference of over £1000. Previously, they would have received Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit of about £2688 - so they've lost £1572 over the four months.

The NUJ is assisting members in taking up these concerns with MPs - and also the difficulties posed by the mandatory online claim process. A survey by the Department for Work and Pensions itself found that only half of all claimants were able to register their claim online unassisted. The NUJ is also campaigning with the Federation of Entertainment Unions and the TUC.

Apart from the obvious point that the government is sacrificing struggling freelances on the altar of austerity. this has wide cultural implications. The NUJ's sister union the Society of Authors points out that both JK Rowling and this year's Man Booker prizewinner Anna Burns depended on benefits at some point in their careers. London Freelance Branch members with experience to share can contact uc@londonfreelance.org

The NUJ's position

The last NUJ Delegate Meeting passed the following Resolution 32, proposed by London Freelance Branch - it is partly by accident that the "by any means necessary" made it from the draft to the final version, but the Freelance isn't complaining.

  • DM notes that so-called "Universal Credit" is shaping up to be a disaster for low-paid freelance workers and/or disabled people in more ways than can be listed here and now.
  • DM notes that in many cases a disastrous loss of income support is connected with workers' income varying widely from month to month - a condition that journalists share with workers in the entertainment industries.
  • DM instructs the NEC to work with other Federation of Entertainment Unions members and our respective supportive Members of Parliament to overturn, delay, stymie and frustrate this regressive measure by any means necessary.