Thursday, 19 November 2020
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I am seeking information on the plan for the basic income pilot scheme, which is part of a submission the Minister received from the arts and culture recovery task force in the Life Worth Living report that was put before the Cabinet recently.
I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the report of the arts and culture recovery task force, which was a commitment in the programme for Government, was published this week. The report included a recommendation that a universal basic income be piloted for a three-year period in the arts sector. I very much welcome this report and thank the task force members for their time, expertise and commitment.
The task force has made ten recommendations to aid the survival of the sector during Covid-19 and beyond under three themes: ensuring recovery; building resilience; and facing forward. The ten recommendations seek to protect livelihoods, which is what the universal basic income pilot involves; mitigate income loss; ensure fair play for the makers of creative content; secure the viability of the live events industry; sustain local authority capacity to support arts and culture; ensure well-being; build sectoral capacity; make space for arts and live entertainment; provide more outdoor public spaces for cultural events; and address the environmental impact of arts, culture and event activities. The task force report is extremely beneficial to the Government as we examine ways to help the arts and culture sector to emerge from this unprecedented position. I will shortly establish an oversight committee for the appraisal of the task force's recommendations.
On a broader level, the Government has already responded to the challenges facing the sector through a number of recent measures. Some €25 million was provided in June, including €20 million for the Arts Council, as well as additional supports for regional museums. A further €29 million was announced in the July stimulus, including funding for the Arts Council, Screen Ireland, our national cultural institutions, a music stimulus and supports for live performance. Significant additional funding was announced in budget 2021, with €130 million allocated to the Arts Council for 2021 and €50 million for supports for life performance. Tens of millions of euro in supports have been provided to those impacted in the arts, culture, performance and events sector through the pandemic unemployment scheme and various wage subsidy schemes. Some people in those sectors have also availed of the commercial rates waivers and may avail of the Covid restrictions support scheme.
I welcome the report and some of its findings. There is an urgency to this. Many artists, musicians and those working in the creative world have adapted to their circumstances, but some have not been able to. Some are in dire straits. They are waiting for the oversight group to come up with how a basic income will be rolled out, such as its parameters and so on, while there is an urgency now. How will the Minister roll out the basic income pilot scheme? In the meantime, will she ensure that those artists and others working in creative industries can fully avail of the equivalent of what some of them enjoyed at the early stage of the Covid crisis, that is, the full pandemic unemployment payment while they are waiting for a basic income scheme? While I do not fully agree with those types of schemes, the new scheme has yet to be rolled out.
I can speak to the recommendations as they came from this task force, which comprised a broad range of people involved in the screen sector, the artistic community, our cultural institutions and the live event industry. They identified ten key recommendations.
The Deputy said the universal basic income was a well-established proposal, long before the pandemic, and would involve a tax-free payment to residents of the State without reference to their means or availability for employment. This would be a game changer for the community which is, as the Deputy rightly said, in dire straits. We have to be prudent and do things properly. Those who have artistic or creative work as their chief occupation often experience income insecurity and cash flow problems. As the Deputy will know, financial stress can impede creativity. The creation of art, whether that is music, live events or literature, requires practitioners to have the freedom to create.
I have asked my Cabinet colleagues to assess all ten recommendations. As the Deputy is aware, I led the Green Party negotiations and negotiated the commitment to the universal basic income in the programme for Government. This report will feed into the national economic plan, which is also a commitment in the programme for Government. I have started those conversations around universal basic income with my Cabinet colleagues. I welcome this report because it accelerates the commitment to a universal basic income. As the Deputy knows, a three-year pilot scheme has been sought.
There is no doubt about the commitment of the Minister and those who have promoted it. Some have not promoted it. There should be a universal living wage. We can deal with that another time.
As the Minister said, this is a proposal from 2019 and is in the programme for Government. It will not be rolled out within the next number of weeks or months because any such payments involve a series of mechanics. I wish it could be done in the morning. What can be done as an interim measure? Those who wrote the report have already identified that 55,000 people will be affected. In anticipation of the introduction of a basic income scheme, can the Minister roll out a temporary measure to cover those people until the scheme is in place?
I thank the Deputy. In the interim, I hope he would know that I announced the successful applicants from the €5 million pilot programme in the July stimulus package. I will roll out €50 million in the new year to help the sector. The amount was increased to €50 million because the €5 million programme received €16.5 million worth of applications. This money will support artists and those working in the live event industry. There is also unprecedented funding of €130 million for the Arts Council.
We have assessed the pilot programme. I met representatives of the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland and the Event Production Industry Covid Working Group in recent weeks to assess the €5 million pilot programme and examine what more we can do to support them and whether improvements can be made. I have secured funding in budget 2021 to do that.