Universal basic income of €325 a week mooted for arts workers

Three-year pilot, costing €2.5m per 1,000 participants, proposed by recovery taskforce

A proposal for a three-year pilot of a universal basic income in the arts, culture, audio visual and live performance and events sector has been backed unanimously by the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce appointed by Minister Catherine Martin.

The basic, unconditional, opt-in wage for artists and cultural workers, based on the national Minimum Wage of €10.20 an hour, would be in lieu of other welfare payments, and would allow creatives to earn other income separately when work was available.

The report analyses the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and other payments and says a universal basic income (UBI) of the national minimum wage for 31.9 hours gives a weekly payment of €325.38 .

Average earnings in the sector are €584.84 so the basic income measure would on average replace 55.6 per cent of that, it says.


The detailed proposal was the first of a comprehensive strategy of 10 actions in Life Worth Living, the report of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce, which was unveiled after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

The 18-person taskforce, chaired by Clare Duignan, included artists, representative bodies and officials from several Government departments. It was charged with making recommendations to ensure the survival of culture, arts, audio-visual, live performance and the events sector, until it fully opens up again.

Both Ms Duignan and the Minister pointed out “the arts and culture sector was the first to shut and will in many cases be the last to reopen”, because of Covid-19, and the proposals in the taskforce report were vital to ensure survival.

“The sector is unravelling,” Ms Duignan said, adding that each month the situation was getting worse, and the sector could take years to rebuild.

Another proposal is a capital improvement scheme to reimagine public spaces, with funds for local authorities to adapt, equip or improve places for culture and events. “This would improve the quality of life for people across the country, as we are faced with living more of our lives outdoors,” said Ms Duignan.

Ms Martin will appoint an oversight committee to see the recommendations are implemented. She said there was strong Cabinet support for the proposals, including the Universal Basic Income , with a commitment to introduce the pilot during the Government’s lifetime. The basic income project would be examined by the Low Pay Commission. Ms Martin pointed out there has been an income support scheme for cultural workers in place in France since 1936.

The report includes wide-ranging recommendations on policy and planning, income, taxation and financial provision, education and training, technology supports, mental health, social protection, community development, social inclusion and copyright. Ms Duignan said the taskforce members backed all the proposals unanimously.

Regarding the cost to the Exchequer, it says figures on October 22nd show 7,042 people claiming PUP in the category “Arts, entertainment and recreation”, which includes sports. The average pandemic unemployment payment - which depends on income before Covid-19 struck - is €276 per week.

It says a UBI of €325.38 per week would be €49.38 per week higher than the average PUP payment for the sector, or an additional €2,567 a year. This would cost an additional €2.5m per annum, over and above the current PUP cost, per 1,000 participants in the pilot.

Copyright and mentoring

The report also advocates transposing into Irish law both the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, and the Audio Visual Media Service Directive, to ensure fair pay for makers of creative content. In addition, it proposes training and mentorship to bring green initiatives and sustainability to the arts, culture and creative industries.

The National Campaign for the Arts, which participated in the taskforce, said the report’s proposals were a further significant step towards the survival, recovery and strengthening of the arts and events industries. It was particularly happy about the pilot of a Universal Basic Income, which it has pushed for and “which will be transformative for so many artists and arts workers”.

Irish Equity trade union, representing performers, also welcomed the proposal to introduce a basic income scheme for arts workers.

Epic working group, representing skilled event industry workers, said the task force had produced “crucial recommendations critical for the survival of the live events sector”.

The report was also welcomed by Screen Producers Ireland, and by Event Industry Ireland (EII), representing the business events industry and also involved in the taskforce, particularly its “constructive proposals”, including a Business Supports Grant Scheme for SMEs in the event industry that are excluded from the Covid-19 Restrictions Support Scheme.

Regarding the current ban on live shows, Ms Duignan said arts spaces such as theatres, galleries and cinemas were highly controlled, professionally run environments and strong consideration should be given to amending the current restrictions, particularly at Level 3. Health and safety expertise in the sector could ensure safety, she said.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times