Islington comic says freelancers are being pushed onto Universal Credit during coronavirus pandemic

Jo Romero performing. Picture: Annie Pitcher

Jo Romero performing. Picture: Annie Pitcher - Credit: Archant

An Islington comic says self-employed people working in the creative industries are being pushed onto Universal Credit due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jo Romero performing. Picture: Annie Pitcher

Jo Romero performing. Picture: Annie Pitcher - Credit: Archant

It comes as chancellor Rishi Sunak today announced a scheme to give self-employed people a grant based on their earnings over the passed three years, worth up to 80pc of earnings but capped at £2,500 a month. But this won’t come into affect until June.

Jo Romero, a comic who lives off Parkhurst Road, told the Gazette: “It’s astonishing how us creatives, we freelance, our diaries are booked up maybe six to eight months ahead of work and literally everything has gone. Every gig has been pulled and I know a lot of comics trying to take their stuff online. We work really hard to build momentum and our profile, our comedy, our sets.

“For us it’s so strange, everything in my diary has gone. For about 48 hours I was stunned because I don’t have any family, I don’t have any parents. Many years ago I came through a recovery, through AA, and had been homeless. So when I did recover and was looked after in a council flat. For me that 48-hours was like: ‘I’m going to lose my home.’”

Jo had little choice but to apply for Universal Credit – the government’s controversial flagship welfare reform that combines six legacy benefits into one online-only payment.

Luckily, Jo had some savings she was hoping to one day put towards a mortgage so she has enough to cover her bills and buy food until her first payment.

“I have to hold tight until then,” Jo told the Gazette. “I have heard from my other friends in comedy, they’re now realising they have to do the same thing but because a week has passed it’s almost impossible to talk to anybody. One person said they were waiting on the phone for almost three hours.”

More than 500,000 others have made a claim in the past nine days and the Department for Work and Pensions is so swamped that the majority of these aren’t currently being processed.

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The DWP’s permanent secretary Peter Schofield said on Wednesday that the department aims to increase the number of staff members helping with Universal Credit claims to 3,900 by the end of the week.

Jo added: “Many people may not be familiar with what’s its like to freelance, especially as a performer. I’ve worked very hard for the last 15 years in my sobriety to build a life and career. Its a scary time for artists, when we get through this I hope that the community of Islington will come out and support us at our wonderful club.”

Jo is a resident performer at Nice’n’Spiky and The Fortnight Club at The Regent in Liverpool Road.

Click here for our directory of support groups for people in Islington.