According to the Society of Authors it has warned MPs that the changes to Universal Credit could silence working-class writers, impeding diversity in publishing and thus making it harder to attract different types of readers.
Speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group inquiry into authors’ earnings on Tuesday (30th October), the SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon cautioned MPs that Universal Credit – awarded as a single monthly payment to people who are on a low income or out of work (twice monthly for some in Scotland) -could be detrimental to some authors’ income, forcing them to give up writing all together.
The SoA further explained that under the old system, currently in the process of being phased out, some authors with low earnings are able to claim working tax credits to supplement their income, thus ensuring they continue writing as a profession. But replacing this with the Universal Credit means self-employed people have to meet the “Minimum Income Floor” (an assumed level of earnings, based on what the government expects an employed person to receive in similar circumstances) in order to receive benefits. This is a threshold many writers are unable to reach. “This is equivalent to the National Living Wage for most working-age people,” SoA said. “Given that the median annual income of a professional author is about £10,500, well below the National Living Wage, many authors will lose their entitlement to benefits under the new scheme.”
Ms Solomon highlighted to MPs in her testimony to the inquiry that authors, including the likes of JK Rowling and 2018’s Man Booker winner Anna Burns, have depended on the benefits system to support their writing. In the acknowledgements of Milkman (Faber), Burns notably gave thanks for the support of benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions that – along with the support of her local food bank, various charities and the SoA – enabled her to write her acclaimed book; sales of which reached the highest volume of any winner in the BookScan era in the week after winning the prestigious prize.
Unfortunately, claims the SoA, changes to the benefits system risks driving such working-class writers out of the industry. “From JK Rowling to Anna Burns, many authors have depended on the benefits system to support their writing. But, the design of the Universal Credit fails to recognise the reality of the work of authors or other self-employed workers in the cultural sector,” said Solomon told the inquiry.
“Universal Credit risks driving working-class authors and other under-represented voices out of the profession. This would have a shocking impact on the diversity of stories being told. If writing is seen as a privilege then, only the privileged will be able to write. This gives us an incredibly narrow group of people who can afford to write, which in turn will make it harder to attract new readers and lead to a narrowing of our readership base.”
NB We all know that writers are not in it for the money but this action will destroy more than just the pleasure of writing as less books produced will be detrimental to our children, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren.