Thursday, 19 November 2020
I congratulate the Minister on initiating and delivering the report of the arts and culture recovery task force. Arts and culture identify us as a nation. Both the Minister and I have participated in the arts and we understand its importance to those involved. Will she discuss the following key recommendations of the report: capacity building and upskilling, and a universal basic income, UBI, pilot scheme?
In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, I established the arts and culture recovery task force to develop a clear approach, informed by the view of stakeholders, to protect and sustain the arts and culture sector through the Covid-19 recovery and beyond. The negative impact of the crisis on the arts, culture and live entertainment sectors has been well established and quantified over recent months in research undertaken by the Arts Council and my Department. As an artist himself and from our numerous conversations about these matters, I know that Deputy Duffy is keenly aware of the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis on many of his friends and colleagues working in the sector.
The task force has issued its report and I have brought it to the attention of my Government colleagues and arranged for its publication. Under the chairmanship of Ms Clare Duignan, the members of the task force brought together a depth of knowledge and experience. They produced their report in a matter of weeks and I am grateful to all of the members for their energy, commitment and insights.
The Deputy referred to two specific recommendations in the report. The proposal for a UBI scheme is the key recommendation. There is a commitment in the programme for Government, as the Deputy noted, to request the Low Pay Commission, informed by a review of previous international pilot schemes, to examine the introduction of a pilot scheme in the lifetime of the Government. While this is a matter for the commission, once requested by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to examine the matter, I am personally very supportive of the proposal, which reflects the commitment set out in the programme for Government. I want to see the matter thoroughly examined in the context of the national economic plan. It will ultimately be a decision for the Low Pay Commission, but there are clear reasons that the arts and culture sectors are the right sectors for such a pilot scheme. There have been numerous trials of UBI in other countries, notably Finland, and even a recent call from 500 MPs, lords and local councillors for a trial in the UK. France has had a scheme in place since 1936 that supports artists.
The second recommendation the Deputy referred to is the sectoral capacity building and upskilling scheme for artists and creative workers aimed at recovery and renewal through professional development. This is a measure around learning and development. The task force recommended that a dedicated bespoke scheme of supports is required. It is another proposal that I am anxious for the oversight group to examine.
I thank the Minister for her reply. The Green Party has campaigned for the introduction of universal basic income and successfully negotiated to have it included in the programme for Government. The report sets out an initial pilot scheme for the arts and culture sector, which would be the first time the State will have such a programme. The Green Party has always advocated for the vital role our artists play in maintaining a healthy society. The €4 million capacity building and upskilling funding is welcome. From my participation in the sector as an artist, I believe artists are conduits who reflect society through their work. They often become fused into the heartbeat of their communities. This can bring various mental health issues and, in that regard, I highlight and welcome the Minding Creative Minds recommendation which aims to combat this. Will the Minister discuss the measures she intends to take on mental health arising out the report?
Under the heading Ensuring the Wellbeing of Ireland's Creative and Cultural Community, the task force report recommends the establishment of a programme to provide well-being supports to the creative sector. This is based on programmes such as Minding Creative Minds, an organisation established to offer a free 24-7 well-being and support programme for the Irish music sector. It provides access to an experienced team of trained counsellors and psychotherapists who can offer short-term intervention and advice covering practical, day-to-day issues that cause anxiety and stress.
Covid-19 is bringing a lot of stress into all of our lives. Many of us rely on arts and culture to provide some relief, but those who make the art also need support. I am very supportive of this proposal and I have asked my officials to seek to progress it as soon as possible. This issue needs to be addressed promptly. Just as we miss attending live music gigs and going to theatres, our artists are really missing performing in front of audiences. The interaction between musician and audience is a key part of maintaining positive mental health for artists. They need that support and I will look to address it.
I will end as I began by congratulating the Minister on initiating the task force to protect the arts and culture sector during and beyond the Covid-19 crisis. It is important to see the mental health of artists being supported through initiatives such as Minding Creative Minds. I know the Minister has spent a considerable amount of time pursuing mental health resourcing generally in her time in this House. Funding of our artists through upskilling and capacity building is essential for a vibrant and dynamic sector. Having received funding in the past, I know at first hand how vital it can be, not only to assist creative professionals in their endeavours but also to help us better relate to one another through appreciation of our shared culture and art.
With our colleagues in the Green Party, the Minister and I have long campaigned for the introduction of a universal basic income. It is great to see a pilot scheme of this Green Party policy being acted upon by the Government. Can the Minister give a firm timeline of when a UBI will be in place and operational?
The case for a UBI was well established long before Covid. As I said earlier, those who create artistic or creative work where it is their chief occupation often experience income insecurity and cash flow problems. That was the case pre-Covid and it will be so post Covid. That financial stress can impede creativity. A 2018 review of pay and conditions in the performing arts by Theatre Forum found that 30% of artists and practitioners earn less than the national minimum wage and the circumstances in 2020, of course, are worse. The Deputy referred to the programme for Government commitment to request the Low Pay Commission to examine that. This is a key commitment in the programme for Government.
The task force has suggested that a UBI pilot scheme would cost an additional €2.5 million per annum over and above the current pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, cost per 1,000 participants. We will need to look at other UBI models, such as those in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and California. The recommendation to undertake a pilot UBI scheme for the arts and culture community brings this debate forward. I really welcome that, as it needs to be treated with the urgency it deserves. I have started those conversations around UBI with my Cabinet colleagues. Workers in the cultural sector need ongoing support if it is to avoid depletion of talent by migration away towards other sources of income.