So Maggie Thatcher’s dead – what have I got to add to the output of rants and raves that are out there? Nothing, but I have enjoyed reading them all. Her death did get me searching for something – anything – positive I might have to say about her reign. It took me a while, but anyone else remember the Enterprise Allowance Scheme?
This was the scheme that launched a thousand arts careers – stand up comedians, theatre companies, visual artists and more. Tracy Emin, Viz comic, Alan Davies… a seemingly endless parade of us got £40 a week for a year plus whatever we could earn on top once we’d borrowed for the day the £1000 we had to have to start. I remember a group of us pooled our collective resources (well, the collective resources of our parents) to make the £1000 and then moved it from bank to bank to meet the criteria.
The EAS gave me a start, a chance to run my own business, to hone skills, gain experience and push myself out there. I’ve had jobs, for sure, but I’ve always returned to doing my own thing for myself – I loved the taste of freedom I got then and I still want that taste in my mouth today because of it.
I set up a theatre company with my mate – Token Gestures, we were called – providing educational theatre to deaf under 5’s. It took us a couple of months to realise we’d narrowed our focus just a little too much with our audience targeting!
We ran for a good 4 or 5 years – touring theatre in the UK and Europe – and we did quite well. We got to work alongside some other companies – such as Merseyside Young People’s Theatre (MYPT) and performed in nurseries, schools, clubs and community halls – as well as theatres like Polka Children’s Theatre in London. My eldest daughter was even in a show as a baby (she was listed down as a prop) enabling me to keep working and keep earning as a young mum.
Yes, it was a way to massage the unemployment figures – after all, the 300,000 or so of us who took this route ‘disappeared’ from one set of statistics onto another, and we all knew that, but ohhh it was a good year!
Did you know its come back?
We now have the New Enterprise Allowance scheme – announced in 2010 and currently live.
It’s now only for 6 months and there is a £1000 start up grant available. The money seems about the same – £65 for 13 weeks, then £33 for the next 13 (we got £40 a year for 52 weeks).
‘Seems’ is the operative word. Remember when we got £40 a week it was 1983. What’s that worth now? £119.20 a week (thanks historic inflation calculator). So we got the equivalent of just over £6100 for the year, and today’s entrepreneurs are getting £1274 in their 6 months… Ummmmm. Don’t know about you but the maths looks dodgy to me.
It’s just not enough. Not enough to make a real difference. Our £40 a week tipped the balance for me and many of my mates. It was just enough to really make a go of things and the timing was right too – start a new business and get into profit within 6 months? Really?
I often muse on how lucky I am, and its true. I lived through Thatcherism and am now living through its legacy but we found creative routes out. What about my kids, born into the aftermath and living with what we have now?
Time for more creative thinking. And this time as a country we need to put our money where our mouth is. If an idea is worth it, it needs proper resourcing, surely?
Image by hillary the mammal (we had a show with suitcases as both props and a way to transport them, hence I chose this image) and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.