The SoA View on Budget 2021

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
We welcome the Chancellor’s £400 million boost for the arts, but the Budget fails to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help self-employed authors and creative professionals who have fallen through the gaps in Government support over the last 12 months.

We are also disappointed to see that the Treasury has not implemented the removal of VAT on audiobooks or increased Public Lending Right funding.

Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s delivery of his Spring Budget today (3 March 2021), we cautiously welcome the Government’s increase in its Covid Recovery fund for the arts – up from £1.57 billion to £1.87 billion. We look forward to further detail on the extent to which literary projects are set to benefit from the extra funds and will be pushing Arts Council England and others to see that authors receive their fair share.

The Budget, which is the Government’s main fiscal event of the year, had been expected to include wide-ranging tax and spending measures after the Chancellor was forced to issue several ‘mini-budgets’ throughout 2020 to keep the country afloat during the pandemic.

However, the Budget failed to live up to expectations on support for self-employed creative professionals, with the Government announcing a fifth round of Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (‘SEISS’) until either July or September, with only younger and more recent freelancers who became self-employed on or after 6 April 2019 set to benefit from changes to the scheme.

  • To read our view on the shortcomings of SEISS and our call for more comprehensive support for creative freelancers, click here.
  • Help us continue to lobby for more targeted Government support for authors by completing our first Authors in the Health Crisis poll of 2021 here.

Ahead of the Budget, we made a detailed submission to HM Treasury restating our Six-Point Plan for Authors, which called on the Government to:

  1. Close loopholes in the SEISS, following our series of 2020 Authors in the Health Crisis polls, which found that two thirds of authors had been hit financially by the pandemic with only a third receiving early rounds of SEISS support.
  2. Increase the UK’s £6million Public Lending Right  to match Germany’s £12million fund.
  3. Scrap VAT on audiobooks following the success of the SoA, Axe the Reading Tax and others in securing zero-rating on ebooks from 1 May 2020.
  4. Establish a dedicated Learning Resource Fund for schools to ensure that teachers can secure better learning materials for both in-class and home-school learning.
  5. Improve learning resource funding for Higher Education students in the wake of Universities estimated to lose up to half of their income this year.
  6. Support our Authors’ Contingency Fund, which has distributed well over £1million to authors facing financial hardship in the last 12 months. We hope that some part of the £400 million in announced arts funding could be used for this purpose.

Commenting on the Budget, Chief Executive Nicola Solomon, said:

While we cautiously welcome the Government’s extra funding for the arts, the Chancellor has failed to listen to arguments on closing most loopholes in the SEISS, with only newer freelancers set to receive any meaningful help from the Government after 12 months of uncertainty.

Having looked through the Treasury’s Red Book, we are hugely disappointed to see nothing on zero-rating of VAT on audiobooks or Public Lending Right funding, and we will continue to press the case ahead of the Autumn Statement later this year.

In the meantime, we urge all authors to help us continue to build an evidence base to present to Government on the shortcomings of its support measures by completing our latest Authors in the Health Crisis survey.

What is clear to us from our research last year is that the SEISS has failed to help anywhere close to the Chancellor’s target of 95% of self-employed workers, with his laudable aim of doing ‘whatever it takes’ to support to them in today’s Budget bearing little or no resemblance to reality.

Alongside such critical financial help, we will also continue to press the Government and others to support the Authors’ Contingency Fund to enable us to continue providing financial support to authors in the greatest need.

The Levelling Up case on the UK’s Public Lending Right to reward authors when their books are borrowed from public libraries continues.

The Government must also lead an improvement in educational funding so that teachers, parents and pupils can access more of the excellent materials provided by educational writers – and ensure they can be properly paid for their work – so they can continue to produce world-class learning materials.

I am pleased that the SoA has worked closely with Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and the Publishers Association in putting these concrete proposals to the Treasury and we will continue to make the case throughout the year as further detail of the Budget emerges, departmental budgets are set and preparations for the Autumn Statement begin.

Last updated: 4 March 2021