Universal Credit could silence working class writers

31 October 2018

The Society of Authors has warned that reforms to the benefits system could silence working class writers and other diverse voices.

Speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group inquiry into authors’ earnings on Tuesday 30 October, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon told MPs that Universal Credit would cause a further fall in authors’ incomes, and may force some to give up writing all together.

Under the old system, which is now being phased out and replaced by Universal Credit, some authors with low earnings could claim Tax Credits to supplement their income. This enabled them to dedicate more time to their writing, ensuring that they could continue to write as a profession.

But the introduction of Universal Credit means that the self-employed must meet the “Minimum Income Floor” to receive benefits. This is equivalent to the National Living Wage for most working-age people. Given the median annual income of a professional author is £10,500, which is well below the National Living Wage, many authors will lose their entitlement to benefits under Universal Credit.

Furthermore, a self-employed worker’s entitlement to Universal Credit is assessed monthly. This will make it even harder for professional writers to reach the Minimum Income Floor and claim Universal Credit, as authors’ incomes are not stable and tend to fluctuate from month to month.  

Why does this matter?

It can take years for authors to establish themselves. Many writers who are well-known to us today toiled away in obscurity before their breakthrough work was published, often claiming benefits to support their work during this period.

Anna Burns, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, relied on the benefits system while writing her prize-winning novel Milkman. In the acknowledgements to the book, she thanked her local food bank, various charities, the SoA, and the Department for Work and Pensions for the support they had given her.

But changes to the benefits system risk driving working-class writers like Anna Burns out of the industry. If these authors are no longer able to top up modest incomes from writing with benefits, they may be forced to give up writing altogether.  

This is bad news for publishers and readers as well as authors. It will lead to a reduction in the diversity of published works, and the opportunity to attract new readers will be lost.

Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society of Authors, said:

“From JK Rowling to Anna Burns, many authors have depended on the benefits system to support their writing. But the design of Universal Credit fails to recognise the realities of work for authors or other self-employed workers in the cultural sector.

“Universal Credit risks driving writers from working-class backgrounds 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.”


Nadine (27/05/2019 04:51)
" I am a clairvoyant medium currently authoring my first book. Despite not yet being on Universal Credit, the Minimum Income Floor has been applied to my very low earnings. This means I am now being chased for council tax I cannot afford and do not owe, given my earnings. I am currently on working tax credits, and these changes are a dire threat to anyone who is a creative, flexible hours worker.
But we shall not be buried. Keep the vision creative souls!
Love always wins in the end."
Robert (26/11/2018 07:18)
" I got seriously ‘caught out’ by tax credits as after three years of claims I am being forced to pay over £7,000 back. During this period I was signed by a respected literary agent but sadly she could not find a publisher. I was extremely grateful for the support I received through tax credits but never envisioned I’d have to pay them back! I am disabled and broke so UC won’t be any help either. It seems that the lower classes are being left to rot in the UK now."
Kate Evans (18/11/2018 08:31)
" It has taken me eight books and graphic novels to reach a point where I am no longer dependent on tax credits. There is just no way these books could have been written if I was on Universal Credit. A year's royalty payments are interpreted as a months income under Universal Credit. An advance designed to last eighteen months is treated as one months income and seventeen months' unemployment, during which the claimant must complete a job search for a mandated number of hours per week. I am so angry that other working mothers of my talent and abilites, but ten years younger, will not get the opportunities I have had."
Brian Austin (16/11/2018 03:29)
" As an SoA member, thank you again to the SoA for keeping us up to date on what's happening.

To be honest, when I read your article about how "Universal Credit could silence working class writers", I was more than a bit shocked. This is an awful situation!

The loss of writers from any walk of life is a loss. Perhaps even a sign of a decaying civilisation, when given lots of good things happening in the world today, we should be soaring.

If we end up only with writers who can support ourselves, then however hard we try, what we write will be skewed. The world needs every writer willing to put pen to paper or keyboard to screen.

To me, the solution involves two approaches working independently yet side-by-side. On the one hand, organisations like the SoA can lobby government: fingers crossed. Also, I think we writers need to do more ourselves. Why? Apart from some wonderful benefactors, and organisations like the SoA, who else is going to help?

Even so, there is a third way that writers can tap into new opportunities - maybe. So I wrote another article / blog entry to promote that idea and encourage suppliers to employ more writers, outlining the benefits of doing so.

Though I'm not sure if I can include the link here. Anyway, here goes: feel free to delete if required:

John (16/11/2018 03:18)
" This doesn't affect me at all (lucky me) but I'd like to voice my support for the writers who are affected. I am dismayed by the negative effects of Universal Credit, in this and other contexts. Go for it (the jugular, preferably)."
Ash (10/11/2018 02:17)
" Universal credit is another attack on the millions of have-nots imprisoned in the monetary concentration camp run by the haves. Until there is a mass awakening to the corruption and tyanny caused by humankinds invention and unequal distribution of money/power and complete overthrow of this system of existence in which the few rule the many as a race of masters and slaves, the poor bashing by the malevolent authority of a tiny branch of humanity (the 1% that control 95% of the world's wealth) will continue. Britain and America are both controlled by the same shadow government serving the western criminal-elite, when there's a general election they make sure the people cannot change anything by election rigging ensuring the result is what the criminal-elite have predecided. Through this rigging of the electoral system creating false choice - the illusion of democracy, they have been able to keep Britain a dictatorship of malevolent secret rulers for near 40 years (1979 to 2018) without any major rebellion by the people (while slaves are tricked into thinking their free they don't rebel) This is why the standard of living for the working classes has constantly been degraded over these decades. All the leaders of the country over this period have been bilderberg group recruited and placed. This high treason has reduced Britain to a vassal state of criminal-elite world government. The wars Iraq Afghanistan Syria have all been part of this conspiracy. Money and the criminal-elite of world rulers it empowers is the cause. To end the problem you have to end the cause of the problem. Please wake up and stop blindly complying. Unite to create a world free from the rule of money and by doing so, end humanity's insane and shameful existence as a race of masters and slaves, in which one single ruling have can terrorise and kill a million have-nots through money control. MONEY HAS TO GO FROM THE WORLD. HUMANITY CAN EXIST WITHOUT IT AND DID SO FOR ALMOST 200,000 YEARS."
Josephine Feeney (09/11/2018 05:52)
" It is almost impossible for working class authors to have their work published and this change to Universal Credit only makes matters worse. Do you think the government are bothered? If anything, like President Trump, they want to take the microphone away from those who are telling uncomfortable truths. Thanks for being on the side of all authors, especially for those like me, who are from working class backgrounds. Unfortunately, I am not writing at present as I've had to take on two jobs to help my family make ends meet. One day, I will write again."
Josephine Feeney (09/11/2018 05:51)
" It is almost impossible for working class authors to have their work published and this change to Universal Credit only makes matters worse. Do you think the government are bothered? If anything, like President Trump, they want to take the microphone away from those who are telling uncomfortable truths. Thanks for being on the side of all authors, especially for those like me, who are from working class backgrounds. Unfortunately, I am not writing at present as I've had to take on two jobs to help my family make ends meet. One day, I will write again."
Jo Franklin (08/11/2018 09:35)
" Please remember that low income does not just effect the working class. Many people are on a low income. Some because of a change in circumstances eg Ill health, Caring for others,Divorce
Universal Credit has many problems. It has not been designed with the self employed in mind and it is hopeless for creatives whose income is sporadic.
Creatives can employ averaging for tax purposes to help smooth the peaks and troughs of our income over more than one year, but this need has been ignored in the design of UC.
Creatives on a low income (most) have been able to claim tax credits to ease the situation. However UC will not work for them. This situation is more acute for creatives who have had a change in circumstances since forging a creative career.
What else is the Society of Authors doing to lobby for changes to or the cancellation of the Universal Credit roll out?"
Mary Filmer (05/11/2018 09:56)
" Hi, I really am not sure at all about what is written up top. I am a children's author from Western Australia. I have been writing for over 30 years and have just had my second book in the Mary Sumeridge fantasy series come out.
I have I been writing for 30 years. I wrote a children's column for a newspaper in Western Australia, had books published in Europe and Australia and now I a write for an American publisher. But I am not well know at all, so any help would be nice. I really need to sell some books if I am going to eat. Mary Filmer"
Kate (01/11/2018 05:05)
" As a full time single parent of three for the past five years child tax credits are the only way I have been able to work on my second novel at all, which is still not finished because I am also taking every bit of paid work that comes my way. There is no way I will be able to continue if UC is introduced in my area and I shall have to give up writing all together."

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