Thursday, 15 February 2018
Social Welfare Scheme for Artists
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I fully support the concept of a social welfare scheme for artists. This is important and long overdue. We need to shape the scheme so that it appreciates the work of artists and supports them to produce work during a meaningful career.
It has come to my attention that the number who have availed of the pilot scheme has been quite low, some 13 artists as of September 2017 and 24 as of 24 January 2018. That is a rate of around four successful applicants per month. I acknowledge that this is a pilot scheme.
As the Minister will know, the scheme is open only to visual artists and writers and not performing artists. As a musician, I wonder as do other performing artists why we are excluded from the scheme. Given the nature of their work, visual artists do not produce work with a quick turnaround. Works of art such as books of poetry, novels, sculptures, paintings, etc., can take years to produce. Under the scheme, the artist will have to be registered as self-employed with the Revenue Commissioners and be able to demonstrate that at least 50% of his or her income has been derived from his or her art in the preceding year to be eligible for the pilot scheme. The artist's status as self-employed under the scheme is reviewed every year. When one considers this condition in the context that visual artists do not necessarily produce completed work every year and the lack of artist focused copyright legislation, which of itself does not produce much of a long-term income in terms of royalties, it means that the chance of generating 50% of one's income from one's work is unrealistic. The model also works on the notion that there are full-time, secure jobs available for visual artists. That simply is not the case and has never been a reality in the sector in our time. That may have been the case at a time when painters or musicians were employed by the elite of society, but not today. Work in the arts in Ireland can be precarious by nature, on a contract or project basis, rather than secure long-term contracts.
The model of the pilot scheme treats artists as jobseekers who should be seeking employment and, therefore, consistent incomes. That would mean that artists, after a year without producing works, should take any employment offer and training courses offered by INTREO, including classes such as CV preparation, job-searching or referral to JobPath, Tús and jobs clubs.
Most, if not all, of Ireland’s notable writers and visual artists, such as Joyce, Wilde, the Yeats brothers, Beckett and so on, all produced works that took longer than one year to create or write. I reassert that I am fully in support of the notion of a social welfare scheme for artists. It is commendable that such a pilot scheme has been launched. However, has the Minister considered why the participation rate is so low? I genuinely believe, from discussions with writers and visual artists, that this pilot scheme is not fit for purpose and a future scheme would need to be restructured.
I thank Senator Warfield for raising this matter.
The jobseeker's benefit and allowance schemes provide an income for periods when people do not have employment to support themselves. This pilot scheme is different. The aim is to support artists with a view that the artists would provide their own enterprise. Senator Warfield's figures are slightly different from mine. My figures go up to the end of February, and there are 32 artists on the scheme. That figure is still incredibly low. There is a reason that only 32 artists are on the pilot scheme and I need to find that out.
I welcome Senator Warfield's support and I think he knows there is a willingness both in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and my Department to recognise the special nature of works of art. I would also be curious as to why performing artists were not included in the scheme because I would say we would have many more performing artists than visual artists or writers.
I need to wait until the end of the 12 month period to look at the operation of the pilot scheme and to adjudicate on it, warts and all. That 12 month period will end in June 2018, which seems a long time from now. However, as a favour, would Senator Warfield write to me, outlining his ideas on what is wrong and what we could change to put it right from his experience with his fellow artists who have interacted with the pilot scheme, either successfully or unsuccessfully? I will ask for the review to be brought forward with a view to shaping the scheme so that it reaches more artists than the 32 people who have availed of it.
I agree with Senator Warfield's point that the work of a visual artist or a writer does not happen with a certain flow and we need to consider that point. Perhaps performing is different, one will get a gig this month but one might not get a gig next week. Let us agree that I will try to bring the review forward and that he will help me feed into the review by speaking to his friends and colleagues and providing data on what is wrong and what we could do to improve the scheme. Ultimately, we want a scheme that we can roll out not just on a pilot basis, but across the country that will support our creative Irish citizens to do what they do best, and have that cushion to support them in their creativity.
I thank the Minister. We will feed into any review. The ideas are for an extension of the scheme to performing artists and a longer review time for self-employment. Sweden, for example, has three years compared to our one. An exemption from non-relevant training courses or reactivation schemes would also be welcome, as would robust copyright legislation that allows artists to make a living from royalties and takes into account the precariousness of self-employment in the field of cultural activity. The pilot scheme is welcome and it should be a permanent initiative.