Why the government’s reinsurance scheme doesn’t go far enough to protect musicians

Thursday, September 2, 2021

ISM senior communications and campaigns officer Colin Stuart explains how musicians continue to be affected by the pandemic, and why the government’s much lauded reinsurance scheme is not having the desired effect for the live music industry.

In July 2021, the ISM conducted a survey of nearly 600 music professionals to understand how the sector is coping since the majority of UK nations eased restrictions on 19 July. The results of the survey highlighted the enduring hardship and continued impact that COVID-19 is having on musicians, with around one third having had work cancelled in that period.

Following the opening of the survey, the government launched its new £750m reinsurance scheme for live event cancellations, providing financial guarantees to the insurance industry that would allow them to offer cover to event organisers.

The ISM, as one of the organisations that had been calling for such a scheme since summer 2020, joined our colleagues across the sector in welcoming its introduction. The live events sector had been crying out for a reinsurance scheme during the pandemic because, without support, many event organisers simply couldn’t bear the risks of putting on performances.

However, while there is no doubt that the scheme has increased confidence among venues and promoters in programming further into the future, we still have strong concerns about how it will help musicians in the short term.

" We still have strong concerns about how it will help musicians in the short term "

Currently, the scheme offers cover against only one scenario; that UK Civil Authority restrictions prevent an event from legally proceeding. This translates to a lockdown-style situation, where performances are no longer permitted in specific venue types. As the government continues to rollout the vaccine programme and the level of resistance to further lockdowns has increased, the likelihood of a situation which would trigger the current scheme is quite low – the Prime Minister himself describing the lifting of the previous lockdown restrictions as ‘cautious but irreversible’.

For event organisers there are additional concerns. Although the possibility of a full lockdown may be low, the government is more likely to reintroduce social distancing measures or capacity limits in response to increased Covid-19 prevalence. Under the current scheme, such measures, which would have severe implications for the financial viability of performances, are not covered. We urge the Government to look at similar reinsurance schemes in place in Germany and Austria that do include cover for these types of losses.

The results of our survey also showed that although 90% of cancellations are Covid-19 related, almost all of those would not be covered by the reinsurance scheme. Performers’ earnings remain highly vulnerable due to the risk of contracting Covid-19 and the necessity to self-isolate, with venues of all sizes having to cancel performances at short notice.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that another alarming result from the survey shows only 23% of music professionals are confident that the sector will return to the pre-pandemic levels of activity by the end of this year.

Given the levels of risk to the industry and the low levels of confidence amongst musicians, we are calling on the government to work with the sector and make changes to the scheme to provide cover for the following scenarios:

  • The government introduces regulations that make events financially unviable. For example, social distancing or lower capacity audiences.

  • Instances where outbreaks of Covid-19 within performers and production teams lead to performances being cancelled. This can be devastating, particularly for smaller organisations/ensembles and productions on a limited run.

Too often musicians are hit hard by late cancellations due to the freelance nature of their work and lack of protections. The government must recognise how difficult the pandemic has been for so many in the creative industries, and ensure that the reinsurance scheme protects people at every level of live performance.

With financial support schemes such as furlough and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) now coming to an end, it is absolutely crucial that the incomes of performers are better protected. If the government does not act soon to offer greater protection and instil further confidence in promoters and venues, we are likely to see talented performers leaving the industry.

The ISM has been working to protect the rights of musicians and champion music since it was founded in 1882. For the latest information about COVID-19 restrictions for musicians, and to discover the benefits of becoming an ISM member, visit ism.org