Janina Benduski was actually always a fan of federalism. Not only because it has proven itself historically. But also because it makes sense in terms of cultural policy. The situation in Saarland is different than in Berlin, Bremen can hardly be compared to Bavaria. In recent months, however, Benduski has had considerable doubts about the system. This is because, since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been dealing with freelance artists who see their livelihoods break away – as hard or soft depending on where they live – as chairperson of the Federal Association of the Free Performing Arts (BFDK) and the Berlin State Association (LAFT) fall.
Sure, there is help for everyone almost everywhere on paper. In practice, however, says Benduski, “We are constantly receiving horror reports from people who are desperate for reality.” Across the republic, a patchwork of programs has been created to help freelance cultural people. Partly effective and easily accessible. Partly so complex that teams of experts from tax consultants and auditors should help with the application. The big premium from the federal government, which simplifies and standardizes things, is not to be expected – because, as is well known, culture is a national issue. At least that’s the common argument. Those solo freelancers who look at empty calendars until 2021 due to Corona often slip through the grid. And don’t know how to pay their next rent.
In Berlin, the crisis for many freelance artists – and that’s just the point, although the hairdresser or kiosk owner is also a self-employed person – started with a medium-sized glimmer of hope. The first emergency aid program launched in March, for which freelancers and micro-entrepreneurs could apply for 5,000 euros, was launched so unbureaucratically and briskly that it was mocked at the “Berlin ATMs”.
Culture is known to be a national issue
The questions came later. And today they employ a number of grant recipients. For example, whether the money could only be applied for in the event of an existing insolvency – or also with a view to presumably missing fees in lockdown times? Emergency aid was intended for people in “acute emergency”, the cultural senate replies, without going into further detail. The Investitionsbank Berlin (IBB), through which the emergency aid program was carried out, is currently carrying out random checks to make sure that everything has been received correctly. Those who had lost fees should at least be able to prove it. It is also possible that at the end of the year the tax office looks at the level of income – and, if in doubt, decides to repay the grant. You don’t know anything specific.
But in comparison, these are luxury concerns. And they only affect the happy few. As is well known, the Berlin state funds were used up after a few days due to the storm. From there, the federal government jumped into the breach, more precisely: the Federal Ministry of Economics. And things got complicated. In contrast to the state’s emergency aid, federal funds can only be used for operating costs – not for living expenses. It remains to be seen how precisely this should be differentiated in the case of freelancers. Where does the person stop, where does the business start?
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Anyone who has difficulty in covering running costs such as rent or insurance because there are no appearances or engagements must apply for basic security. Minister of Culture Monika Grütters has repeatedly referred to this – and acted as if the artists had above all a problem of prestige. “That made a lot of people angry,” says Janina Benduski from practice. Because it’s not about status issues. It’s about bureaucratic madness.
A document of horror
Once again, the situation on paper looks very simple. Basic security is not Hartz-IV. The self-employed are allowed to keep their apartment, and there is no property check. So everything is fine? Harald Redmer knows better. The board member of the North Rhine-Westphalian Cultural Council has compiled a paper entitled “32 Voices from the Crisis”, which bundles anonymized reports from independent soloists from the cultural sector. It is a document of horror.
“Dear Ms…, thank you for sending your documents. I have requested proof of car insurance from you as it is paid for by your ‘roommate’. Information must be provided in the job center that corresponds to the facts. Any misstatement can be punished with a fine ”. Such letters flutter into the house of those who apply for basic security.
“I live with my partner. He still has a job, ”reports an artist. “He brings 1,600 euros to our living group, now known as a community of needs. Now he can only have 432 euros. Then the bill would look like this: So I would have 0, – income and would have to pay 600 euros of insurance from 94 euros? How exactly does that work? “
Blessed are those who receive short-time work benefits
A single parent says that the student daughter’s living with her was counted towards her basic security. Her protest that the Bafög was intended for training was countered, and the daughter could “interrupt or interrupt her studies in an emergency”.
Job centers cope with engineers who become unemployed. But apparently not with people who, in principle, still have work, but who are unable to pursue their profession due to the pandemic. Bad for the roughly two million solo self-employed in Germany, many of whom are currently trying to provide “evidence of all pension and life insurance policies with details of the current surrender value”. Harald Redmer comes up with just one word: “kafkaesk”.
Blessed in comparison who gets short-time allowance. However, as Janina Benduski explains, politicians like to quote that one should not compare it. Short-time work benefit is an insurance benefit from social contributions. No tax injection from the tax budget. But what does it matter to those in need? “What appeals to the self-employed is the feeling of being a second or third class form of work.”
Ping-pong of responsibilities
Meanwhile, the federal and state governments play ping-pong of responsibilities. The federal government only wants to invest in securing cultural infrastructures. The federal states should provide for the livelihood of the artists. These in turn refer to their empty coffers – as was recently seen in the public exchange of blows between Monika Grütters and Klaus Lederer.
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There is no question that most countries do their utmost to ensure that they create culture. Scholarships are being launched everywhere, and Berlin is also launching some – 1000 waves of 9,000 euros are being awarded in two waves. Bavaria, on the other hand, introduced the unconditional basic income for artists for three months, Baden-Württemberg for all solo self-employed. In North Rhine-Westphalia there is now – not least at the instigation of the NRW Cultural Council – a so-called bridging aid: 1000 euros from June to August, also for all solo self-employed. Alone – all these aid programs cannot offer a longer-term perspective.
And the much-touted “culture billion”? Does nothing fall away for the freelancers? At least not immediately. Janina Benduski quotes the passage: “The small and medium-sized cultural institutions and projects are to be supported in resuming their artistic work and in placing new orders for freelancers and solo professionals”. Livelihood looks different.
Still, Benduski doesn’t want to paint black. She was recently invited to a meeting in the culture committee of the Bundestag. There she met politicians who were very knowledgeable about the independent scene – and who were open to the situation of the solo self-employed. “The will to help is there,” she says. “Everyone is overwhelmed with a situation that no one has ever experienced before”.