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‘Stop calling us luvvies! Actors are suffering and it’s a tragedy’

EastEnders star fed up with treatment of people struggling to get by in arts world

16 October, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Actress Michelle Collins 

SOAP opera legend Michelle Collins has said she is fed up with people employed in the arts being branded as “luvvies” while they face financial ruin amid the coronavirus crisis.

The former Highbury Hill School pupil joined a chorus of actors and musicians who have criticised suggestions that their careers may be now be “unviable”.

The government began a publicity campaign this week for re-skilling with tagline that people’s next job “could be in cyber”.

Musicians and artists are among the hardest hit by social distancing restrictions with the “arts, entertainment and recreation” sector making up the highest proportion of employees who have been put on the furlough salary scheme.

Ms Collins, who has ­starred in both ­East­Enders and Coronation Street, said: “I feel so frustrated and I want to speak on behalf of people out there who don’t have a voice – young people in the industry just coming in and it’s all been swept away from them.

“I get so fed up that people seem to think acting is not a proper job, that we’re all just luvvies and lefties, when actually the arts brings in a huge amount of money to the economy.”

The furlough payments – officially called the government’s job retention scheme – covered 80 per cent of salaries but is due to end this month.

Instead chancellor Rishi Sunak is offering the new nationwide Job Support Scheme.

It will see the government now only pay part of people’s wages as long as employers bring them back part-time and pay the other proportion.

This leaves the arts and music sector facing mass unemployment, the government has been warned.

Presented with this possibility, Mr Sunak suggested that some people will have to “adapt to the new reality” and that not all jobs before the pandemic will be “viable” after it.

Ms Collins, who grew up around Highbury and attended Yerbury Primary School, said: “We need the government to appreciate and take notice of people in our industry.

“When people think of our industry they just see famous names and the big screen, but that’s not the case.

“Whenever I have done plays most of the other actors have second jobs just to keep them going.”

She added: “Then there’s all the staff behind the screen or backstage or running the venues. The big-budget films and TV shows have their own testing facilities and they will be okay, but it’s the smaller independent companies that are suffering. It’s such a tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Jermain Jackman, a former student at Arts and Media School Islington who won the talent show The Voice, said: “This Conservative government has just thrown, not just musicians but every single ­person that works in the creative industry, under the bus.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly called on the government to introduce a focused furlough scheme which helps specific sectors.

Last week, Mr Sunak announced more financial support for businesses affected by local lockdowns, as cases of Covid-19 continue to grow.

A Treasury spokesman said: “In July we announced a £1.57billion investment to protect our world-class cultural, arts and heritage institutions through the pandemic. Our support for business has reached, and continues to reach, millions of firms.

“The Job Support Scheme is designed to protect jobs in businesses facing lower demand over the winter due to Covid, and is just one form of support on offer to employers during this difficult period.

“Businesses can still access our loan schemes, now extended, defer VAT payments previously due in March, and benefit from business rates holidays, a moratorium of eviction for commercial tenants and the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.”

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