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Helen Mirren: People in the theatre industry could be facing homelessness

The actress said that Workers in the theatre industry often live ‘from wage packet to wage packet’.

The Good Liar World Premiere – London
The Good Liar World Premiere – London

Dame Helen Mirren has warned that people in the theatre industry could be facing homelessness as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The actress, 75, said many in the sector need financial support because they normally live “wage packet to wage packet” and their work has dried up.

She told the PA news agency that while theatre will “come back”, the arts are “really suffering” during the pandemic and theatre workers need to be helped.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 29, 2020
(Scott Garfitt/PA)

“The worry is simply people not being able to pay their rent,” she said.

Those in theatre “often live as many, many people do, from wage packet to wage packet”, Dame Helen added.

“When those wage packets aren’t there, which has been the case for the last year, it is very, very, very problematic and I’m sure a lot of them are looking at homelessness.”

She said the problem extends beyond actors and includes workers such as ushers, costume designers, cleaners and stagehands.

“They have bills to pay, they have rent to pay and they very often are not the kind of people who have been able to create a nice little security fund for themselves,” she said.

Dame Helen added that it is important to protect the theatre industry as it is “a very important part of our culture in Britain”.

Helen Mirren interview
(Matt Crossick/PA)

“People come to Britain to go to the theatre. Very often that’s why they come,” she added.

The Government is currently distributing a £1.57 billion funding package to the arts and many theatres have received financial support.

Theatres have also been able to make use of the furlough scheme for staff members.

However a number of arts organisations including the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre have warned many freelancers who provide vital services to the sector have been excluded from support schemes.

Dame Helen, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the monarch in 2006 film The Queen, added that it has been “amazing” to see the “inventiveness” of young actors during the pandemic.

She said that “incredible creative juices are still flowing so well within the young people with their contribution on the internet, whether it is on TikTok, on YouTube”.

“It is going to be fascinating to see how it explodes when we are all back in action,” Dame Helen added.

“But in the meantime, people need financial support and they need food support.”

The actress is supporting a Christmas meal appeal by the charities Social Bite and FoodCycle, which is being run in conjunction with the food delivery company Just Eat.

Collateral Beauty European Premiere – London
(Ian West/PA)

The initiative aims to provide up to 200,000 meals for homeless and vulnerable people over the festive period.

Just Eat customers will be asked to make donations of £3, £5 or £10 and the company will match any contributions which are made.

The company has committed to raising the funds for at least 100,000 of the meals included in the overall target.

Dame Helen said she thinks the next two years “are going to be very important years for homelessness” because of the “incredible impact of the pandemic”.

“There will be a lot of evictions and a lot of people struggling who would not normally be struggling,” she added.

59th BFI London Film Festival – Trumbo Premiere
(Matt Crossick/PA)

“Certainly hunger for kids is a very, very big issue which is extraordinary in countries and societies that are in fact so very wealthy and have such huge access to food.

“It’s outrageous really that any person would go hungry in our society.”

Josh Littlejohn, founder of Social Bite, said the pandemic had made food poverty a “major issue”.

“So many people have been tipped that bit closer to the bread line,” he told PA.

“For homeless people it is particularly desperate.”

He added that having Dame Helen support the campaign “massively amplifies” its message.

The actress has recorded a video appeal urging people to support the Christmas Meal Appeal campaign, which launched on Monday.

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