Artists and writers to benefit from new social welfare scheme

Artists and writers to benefit from new social welfare scheme

By Aura McMenamin

Artists and writers will be eligible to collect Jobseeker’s Allowance in a new pilot scheme launched this week.

Developed by the Department of Social Protection, the scheme will see visual artists and writers able to declare themselves as self-employed and collect social welfare.

Euro coins and banknotes large

This move has been welcomed by the Arts Council as the Government’s commitment to recognising and valuing the work of Irish artists and providing them with financial support.

Speaking yesterday at Poetry Ireland’s new headquarters on Parnell Square, Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys said: “Artists are at the very centre of the Creative Ireland programme, and I have been particularly keen for some time now to do more to recognise the income challenges faced by artists.”

“This pilot scheme is not a panacea, but it is a clear sign that the Government recognises the vital role that artists play in Irish society and that we respect and value their contribution.”

Speaking at the announcement yesterday, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar explained his reasoning behind the scheme, saying that fostering native artistry would enlarge Ireland’s ‘global footprint’.

He said: “This reputation for artistic achievement is part of our global USP. I believe it is only right that we allow for some flexibility within the social welfare system to allow artists to access social welfare supports when they need them,” Varadkar said.

“Up to now, artists have found it difficult to access social welfare and of course many artists take on extra jobs to support their livelihoods.”

The move is one that has been campaigned for years by the Arts Council and artists and writers for years. Research by the Arts Council found that income made by artists is low compared to other professions.

Alecia Keane Byrne is Dublin-based spoken word artist. Byrne recently finished her PhD in literature but says she’s happy to know that her creative pursuits will be supported after college.

“If you were attempting to make money from writing and performing it would be extremely uneven,” she said.

“You can be paid quite well for singular gigs, writing book reviews, etc, but mostly it’s kind of a given that you should be doing it ‘for exposure’, or like a hobby.”

Speaking about the conflict between pursuing her art and having to work a ‘regular’ job he said: “It would be very difficult to support yourself on. In addition to this, poetry gigs are very spontaneous – you’ll be asked to do them last minute and often in the evenings.”

“They’re not really conducive to having a job with regular/long hours, like many people in their 20s would have. So in all I think it’s really important for people to be provided for by welfare to focus on their writing.”

The initiative is part of the Creative Ireland Programme. Under the 12 month pilot scheme, visual artists and writers who apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance will not be subject to the ‘activation’ process.

During the activation process, Jobseekers are expected to use the supports offered which might include education or training schemes, employment support schemes to help them back into the workplace and internships.

However, artists on the scheme will be subject to the ‘normal checks and balances’ that Jobseekers undergo to make sure they don’t abuse the system.

Under the scheme, artists will need a declaration from the Visual Artists Ireland body to their status, while writers will need one from the Irish Writers Centre.

Both professions will also have to be registered as self-employed with the Revenue Commissioners and demonstrate at least 50 per cent of their income has been derived from their art in the preceding year.