Three-Year basic income pilot for artists could start in Ireland in January 2022

Basic income for artists: Minster for Culture Catherine Martin called the idea an exciting proposal that has been the subject of positive commentary both nationally and internationally. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Government to develop three-year trial of full scheme for artists that would cost €27.4m a year

By: Deirdre Falvey

A basic-income guarantee was the top recommendation from artists and the wider arts sector expressed through the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce’s Life Worth Living report. Describing it as an unprecedented move, with the pilot involving “a significant number of artists”, Minister for Culture Catherine Martin said she will develop a proposal for the trial scheme by July, working with Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.

The arts and events sector has been among the worst hit by pandemic restrictions, but the basic-income proposal well predates Covid-19, as artistic and creative employment is characterised by low, precarious and often seasonal income.

The National Campaign for the Arts says the basic-income scheme ‘has the potential to be a milestone for the arts in Ireland, a reflection of a nation that truly and authentically understands and supports the artistic process’

After five years of research, consultation and lobbying, the National Campaign for the Arts says it is delighted the pilot has finally come to fruition. “It has the potential to be an historic milestone for the arts in Ireland, a reflection of a nation that truly and authentically understands and supports the artistic process. A basic income for the arts sector recognises the necessity to remove precarity from the lives of artists and arts workers of all disciplines, so that they might develop, create and present their best work for the benefit of all society.”

A three-year trial was the first of 10 recommendations made by the Life Worth Living report, which was published in November 2020. The taskforce said the pilot scheme would keep the sector intact, minimising the loss of skills and contributing to its gradual regrowth, with ongoing social and economic benefits. Martin and her department called the idea “an exciting proposal” that “has been the subject of positive commentary both nationally and internationally”.

Martin recently established an oversight committee to assess the taskforce recommendations, asking it to prioritise how the income pilot could be delivered; its first meeting was on May 27th, and it is expected to report by the end of July. The cross-department committee includes representatives from the Departments of Finance, Social Protection, Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Directors of the Arts Council and Screen Ireland and a representative of the County and City Management Association are also members.

The National Campaign for the Arts, which has asked to make a presentation to the committee, would like to see the payment set at €327 a week, in line with the taskforce recommendation, beginning in January 2022. It says it should not be means-tested or affect existing supports, such as those for disability and housing. It is working with the sector on a draft list of more than 140 positions and professions to be included.

Social Justice Ireland says the pilot scheme should cost a maximum of €27.4m a year, with an average cost per participant of €1,970 a year

Among those working on the basic-income proposal, Social Justice Ireland last month published a detailed analysis of the benefits of such a scheme, as well as how it could work and what it would cost.

In the first quarter of 2020, 11,400 people were employed in the creative, arts and entertainment sector, all of whom could be eligible in principle, according to Social Justice Ireland, with a possible further 600 unemployed artists. At the height of the first wave of Covid-19, about 14,200 people in arts, entertainment and recreation received the pandemic unemployment payment.

The organisation says the pilot scheme should cost the Government a maximum of €27.4 million a year, with an average cost per participant of €1,970 a year. If the numbers on the pilot were limited to 3,000 artists and arts workers, the scheme should cost about €5.3 million a year.

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