The number of freelancers in the cultural sector in Estonia is estimated at approximately 10,200 people in 2021. This number exceeds the number of members of artistic associations (6,600), but the approach somewhat expands the meaning of who is a creative person engaged in the cultural sector from what is meant in the Creative Persons and Artistic Associations Act and takes into account that not all creative persons are freelancers or belong to artistic associations.
The situation with the availability of social guarantees for freelancers in the cultural sector and the subsistence of freelancers in 2021 is worrying. Guarantees related to project-based work cannot meet the real needs of creative persons and are not proportionate to the actual contribution of those engaged in the cultural sector. Social and employment policies related to being in the cultural sector are rather reactive, and instead the best guarantee for the provision of guarantees and income support for freelancers in the cultural sector is increasingly the grant for support of creative activity, the conditions of which need to be modernised.
The income of freelancers is very irregular and rare, which is the main cause of issues related to their social protection. Every other person in the cultural sector has received income from work for less than six months of the year or no income at all in the last year. One third (35%) were employed in all 12 months, while nearly one-fifth (21%) of creative persons in the cultural sector did not receive income from work in any month. When earning income, the income of a freelancer in the cultural sector was comparable to the average income of all employed persons.
The challenges of coverage and adequacy of social guarantees for creative persons in the cultural sector are similar to those for other freelancers – the current social security system does not sufficiently support the wider target group of freelancers. Changes to the insurance system, which allow contributions to social security or universal coverage, regardless of the form of employment, would help improve the current system. In particular, this means more flexibility in the calculation of contributions (social tax, unemployment insurance tax), which would better reflect irregular employment and income, and the possibility to join unemployment insurance. Previous analyses have also shown that universal coverage cannot be achieved by fine-tuning the rules of the current insurance system, but rather the introduction of social protection rules that are independent of the universal coverage are needed. The most far-reaching change would mean the introduction of universal health coverage.
The changes in policies aimed at all self-employed persons help improve the subsistence of creative persons in the cultural sector the most. For example, although it is sensible to move forward with increasing the national pension and it could be raised above the current subsistence level, this increase should be universal. As relates to cultural policy, the subsistence risk of freelancers in the cultural sector could be further prevented by extending the coverage of benefits and allowances so that the contribution rules would take into account the rules of existing contributory social security schemes. Writers ‘salaries and artists’ salaries are such transfers that would ensure non-institutional persons in the cultural sector would be ensured to have a more similar subsistence and social security in comparison with institutional freelancers in the cultural sector who are more likely to have a permanent employment relationship. At the same time, this requires an internal redistribution of culture funding, which is already quite generous compared to other countries.