The European cultural sector, pandemic precarity, and Universal Basic Income

Open Democracy

The COVID pandemic revealed and exacerbated structural problems and inequalities that were already present at many levels of our societies and economies. One of the fundamental institutions that was severely shaken was that of work itself, both through the cessation of activities, the rapid shift to telematic work and the increase in digital services, often provided through online platforms.

The EU and its member states were obliged to intervene in ways that might have seemed impossible only months ago, in what resembles a nationalisation of salaries. It also became evident that the process of regulating the platform economy had to be speeded up. All this seems to suggest that we are in a period of re-thinking what work is in our societies today, something reflected in the current high-level discussion around the ‘social EU’.

One of the hardest hit sectors was that of the cultural and creative industries (CCIs). Apart from the major problems caused by closures, cancellations, and staggering drops in revenue (up to 90% for the performing arts), the unsustainability of the sector’s work model became glaringly obvious. Work in the sector involves higher than average rates of self-employment, part-time work, and transnational mobility. All these do not always easily fit the norms that regulate most work in relation to social security, remuneration, or taxation. Furthermore, EU statistics on the workforce do not capture the significant contribution to culture made by temporary or intermittent workers, those who volunteer or have cultural work as a second occupation.

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