By Leo Wan
How do I survive?
I’ve been prudent and I’ve been cautious. When the government shut down the theatres, I had money set aside to pay my taxes and I had enough savings to support myself for three months. I thought I had done what was expected of me.
I acted responsibly, but this is a privilege – there have been years in my career when I could not have done so, no matter how hard I strived. When the jobs were too far and few between.
I was afforded that privilege because of some small successes as an actor. In 2018 I worked for the National Theatre, then Shakespeare’s Globe, then the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was still with the RSC in March of this year. I’m tempted to say I was lucky, which I certainly was, but I also grafted for seven long years beforehand. I did this without inherited wealth, without living rent-free at my parents’ house, without drama school training.
I’m not sharing my recent credits to boast (though I am undoubtedly proud of them) but because I think they indicate that I was ‘viable’. In March of this year, at long last, even I thought I was viable.
March seems a very long time ago. I’ve gone through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grants. I’ve gone through my savings. I’m now on Universal Credit and housing benefit. After rent, I’m surviving on £95 a week and I can. I’m frugal, I’m single, I have no dependents, I have a good support network, and for the time being, I have a secure home. In many ways, I am very lucky.
But the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is proposing to take my access to Universal Credit away.
The social security system is set up to disadvantage the self-employed. A ‘Minimum Income Floor’ for the self-employed is presumed. That is, the Department for Work and Pensions assumes that if you’re in gainful self-employment, you are earning £1322 over a Universal Credit monthly assessment period.
Sunak suspended the Minimum Income Floor in March – that’s why I’ve been able to access Universal Credit thus far – but it is due to return on 13 November. And with its return, my access to social security is removed. I will become a second-class citizen – is a system really ‘Universal’ when millions are excluded?
So. How do I survive?