Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Questions (27, 29)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

27. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the measures she is planning to take to combat employment and income insecurity across the arts sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45502/19]

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Willie Penrose

Question:

29. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her attention has been drawn to research by an organisation (details supplied) into pay and conditions for performing artists that showed that a third earn less than the minimum wage and that working in the performing arts is characterised by poor conditions and precarious employment; her plans to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45457/19]

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Oral answers (25 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Earlier this year, the Theatre Forum outlined the widespread poverty and lack of income and employment security among artists and people working in the arts. Prior to the budget, the National Campaign for the Arts pleaded with the Minister to honour the Taoiseach's commitment to double arts spending, which has merely crept upwards. The most recent budget saw a very marginal increase in arts funding which will do nothing to address the widespread poverty and income and employment insecurity facing artists and people working in the arts. I have repeatedly pointed out to the Minister that film crew in this country enjoy absolutely no income or employment security. Why was the budget so poor in this regard and what is the Minister going to do to address this issue?

I thank the Deputy. One of these questions was tabled by Deputy Penrose, who is not here. His question is linked to that of Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Are two questions being taken?

Deputy Burton will have an opportunity to ask a supplementary question. Only one Deputy can pose the introductory question.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 29 together.

 I am aware of the research Deputy Boyd Barrett has raised. Since becoming Minister, I have put in place a number of initiatives and additional supports for the arts that will make a significant difference over time to the income of people working in the performing arts.

Total funding for the arts and culture sector in 2020 will increase by more than 2%, from €189 million to almost €193 million, an increase of €4 million.  This funding will comprise €153 million in current expenditure and €39.7 million in capital investment.

The Deputy mentioned the Arts Council of Ireland, through which primary support for the arts is delivered. Its funding has increased in recent years and will reach €80 million in 2020.  This is an increase of €5 million, or 6.7%, on the figure for 2019.  The Arts Council of Ireland, which is independent in its funding decisions under the Arts Act 2003, operates within a published ten-year strategic framework entitled Making Great Art Work. This strategy prioritises support for artists throughout their careers by the involvement of many agencies in cultural provision, the impact of the arts on the creative economy and the depth and breadth of people's engagement with the arts.

The cumulative impact of these funding increases is further testament to the commitment to double Government spending in the arts, culture and heritage sector by 2025, which the Deputy mentioned.  In this context I am already delivering additional supports to the arts and culture sector, building on the €1.2 billion earmarked for my sector under Project Ireland 2040 and thus leading to increased activity and employment across all sectors under the remit of my Department.  

In July of this year I announced the completion of a review of the Per Cent for Art scheme.  The outcome of this review led to changes to the scheme’s bands and limits which will make significantly increased funding available to the creative community.  Many artists have already received high-profile commissions for public art works as a result of this scheme and these increases will ensure many more will also benefit. The new limits and bands will apply from 1 January 2020. Details can be found on my Department's website.

I am re-establishing an interagency group to improve information-gathering and the collation and sharing of best practice within Per Cent for Art schemes.  This group will also be linked to the Arts Council of Ireland and will seek to enhance the council's existing advisory role in the scheme.

Artists deserve our full support and have my full support, particularly given the significant income challenges they face. With regards to artists' pay and conditions I would like to draw the attention of the House to the recent announcement by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and myself of the extension of the social welfare scheme for self-employed artists on jobseeker's allowance on a permanent basis to other self-employed professional artists such as those working in theatre and music. This scheme recognises the unique creative circumstances of professional artists in receipt of jobseeker's allowance and gives them special assistance in their first year out of work, allowing them to focus on their creative output.

In addition, my Department has also worked to address conditions and employment rights in the performing arts and screen industry in conjunction with the relevant agencies under its remit. Central to this are the Arts Council of Ireland's policies on the remuneration of artists, which strive to ensure that organisations in receipt of council funding offer fair and equitable remuneration to artists.

In tandem with securing additional funding, my Department has also worked to address conditions and employment rights in the performing arts and screen industry in conjunction with the relevant agencies under its remit.

My Department has also worked to address conditions and employment rights in the performing arts and screen industry in conjunction with the relevant agencies under its remit.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It is important to note that employees in every industry, including those working in the arts and film sectors, are entitled to all existing legal protections, which includes new legislation under the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours.

The House may also be aware that the Workplace Relations Commission is undertaking an audit of the independent film and television drama production sector with a view to examining industrial relations generally.

The Government will continue to give consideration to measures to further deliver on its commitments but will balance supports to ensure that they are felt across the sector.

We need to realise that we are in a bad situation. It is against a background where this country's international reputation rests to a large extent on the reputation of our artists, musicians, writers, actors, theatre producers and so on. Despite this, we spend a miserable 0.1% of GDP, the lowest in Europe, on the arts. The Minister provided a miserable €5 million increase in the arts budget recently. The consequence for artists is that 80% of them are in precarious jobs and 60% earn less than the average industrial wage. On average, workers in the sector earn less money and work fewer hours than others and the average wage is something like two thirds of the national average. We treat artists and workers in the arts with contempt. I do not see how the miserable increase in funding in the budget will do anything to address that.

I call Deputy Burton on the same matter.

I know the Minister was a novelist in the past. Were Sean O’Casey writing about the likes of the Young Covey today, the characters would be struggling artists because they are the people at the bottom of the heap, struggling on less than the minimum wage. The data are available for the Minister. Artists should not have to look for a minimum wage; they should be looking to have a living wage. The second reason O'Casey would be writing about people still being in tenement style accommodation is that the artists we recently met at the forum our colleague, Deputy Smyth, helped to organise basically cannot look forward to any security with regard to housing. Some artists now spend approximately 80% of a very small income on housing. The Minister has responsibility for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is sad that we are talking about a social welfare scheme for artists. The Minister should address the issue of artists' employment and not just pass it on to social welfare, which is administered by a different Department for a different purpose.

I have to take the reply. There will be a chance for a supplementary question.

Can I just finish on this?

I have had a bad day.

Of the €5 million given to the Arts Council, €3.75 million was a reallocation-----

There are other Members here.

-----so the real increase is €1.25 million.

I remind both Deputies of the Arts Council's press release on the budget. Deputy Boyd Barrett said the increase was a miserable one. The Arts Council stated that it welcomes the increase of €5 million. The Taoiseach has committed to doubling funding for the arts by 2025. We still intend to do that and we are on a trajectory to achieve it but we are all aware that this was not a normal budget in normal circumstances. Under those circumstances, the Arts Council has accepted that and it is best placed to discuss the matter. I am satisfied that the €80 million we secured this year, the highest level of funding in over a decade, was positive rather than negative. We should not try to mislead people in that regard.

Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned our international reputation and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Our artists speak volumes about our global reputation. I wrote a novel and understand how difficult it is for people to earn a living. I could not have given up my job to write books. I am acutely aware of that but it is facetious to say that a social welfare scheme does not assist people because it does.

Four years after the Taoiseach made his commitment, funding for the arts has increased by 15% or 16% but it still stands at 0.1% of GDP. We are nowhere near being on a trajectory to double arts funding. In People Before Profit's budget submission for the past three or four years, we proposed doubling the arts budget, which would have enormous benefits for this country economically and socially as well as for artists. What else would the Arts Council say given that it is dependent on funding from the Minister? It will not say anything too loudly against her. The National Campaign for the Arts expressed considerable disappointment at the increase in funding.

I have repeatedly raised the issue of film crews. We need to do something about the fact that €80 million goes into film every year and nobody in the sector has any security because of the designated activity company, DAC, structure through which the money is filtered. Something needs to be done to address that and to give income and employment security to film crew. More generally, we need to look after our artists.

As Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, we expect the Minister to fight for artists who are genuinely struggling to cope with low pay, poor terms and conditions and sporadic work. In particular, they are struggling to rent spaces in which to carry out rehearsals and other artistic work. They are also struggling to hold on to art spaces and access rent at a reasonable rate. Artists are the backbone of the artistic concept of Ireland and the Minister is neither here nor there. The working artists make Ireland a country with a calling card and reputation which is so positive with regard to the arts. Why can the Minister not champion a living wage and affordable housing for artists? I would think that is absolutely within the remit of any Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Minister has spoken a number of times today about the Arts Council being happy with its budget. In an interview on the day of the budget, the new chairman of the Arts Council, Professor Kevin Rafter, expressed the hope that funding for the arts would increase by 10%. He must have been bitterly disappointed. Research carried out earlier this year by Theatre Forum, members of which attended a meeting in Leinster House recently, on pay and conditions for performing artists showed that one third of artists earn less than the minimum wage, and that working in the performing arts is characterised by poor working conditions and precarious employment. People in the sector have no healthcare, job security, childcare, maternity leave or pension. The Minister has to do something for them.

I did not say the Arts Council was happy with the increase but rather that it welcomed it-----

That is the same thing.

-----under the difficult circumstances of this budget. On the report that was cited, it should be noted that the category in question is much wider than just the arts sector. It also includes gambling and betting activities, as well as sports, amusements and recreation. I commend Deputy Boyd Barrett for creating a policy initiative in the first instance because the Labour Party and Deputy Burton have not yet produced any form of a policy document.

Excuse me, I produced a major policy document.

I did not interrupt Deputy Burton.

The Minister has not read her brief. That is her problem. We will send it in the post to her.

I will answer the Deputy's questions on the national minimum wage. Thus far, the Low Pay Commission's recommendations have been accepted by the Government, with the result that the national minimum wage increased from €8.65 to €9.90 per hour between January 2016 and January 2019. The legislation relating to the setting of the national minimum wage has been in place since 2000. I take the Deputies' comments on board. Since I became Minister, I have increased the capital and current funding for arts at a difficult time. That has to be acknowledged. We have to give more funding to the Arts Council and bring other measures such as the percent for art and social welfare schemes into the mix in policy formation. Artists have a difficult job to do and should be encouraged and supported in any way possible.