In 2019, according to UK Theatre and SOLT’s Theatre Workforce Review, freelancers will be close to forming 50% of the theatre workforce in the UK.
According to the EU Labour Force Work Survey artists make up for 30% of total cultural employment across the EU. 61% of those artists in the UK are freelance.
A common perception of freelancing in the arts is that you choose your own path – you set your fee, your hours, your working week, which projects you deliver. Whilst the myth may be that freelancing enables you to create your own working model, the fact is we are operating in a sector that has impenetrable structures and models that have been set by institutions.
Care is a word that’s used regularly in my peer group. Care can be seen by some as softness or weakness, but in the independent sector especially it is urgent and necessary: according to FreelanceUK, solo freelancing makes one in five suicidal.*
There are movements and individuals who have committed their own time, for free, to raising awareness and providing support for independents who need it.
Ria Jade Hartley has set up Ecologies of Care. Working Class Artists is an important collective challenging appropriation of poverty in British Theatre. James Leadbitter AKA The Vacuum Cleaner has published their Disability Awareness document to provide a template and resource for others. Mothers Who Make are becoming a beacon for mothers trying to sustain their creative practice.
All of these movements put energy into creating better working conditions for freelancers that centre care and wellbeing, but this energy is driven by those who already have scarce personal and economic resources of their own.
Issues of care and wellbeing are not isolated to the independent sector, these are real challenges all workers face. But the way we proportion risk in this industry makes it very different.
In most circumstances freelancing isn’t a choice. It’s the only option. PAYE jobs are being lost, and where they are replaced it is often by freelance contracts. This means increased competition, generating a challenging environment that is an already isolating working week.
For established independents fees are going down, there are more, less experienced workers out there who have to offer lower day rates just to get a look in.
There is a hidden jobs market – 65% of freelance work comes from there. Who has access to these networks, and how are we supposed to create an equitable working landscape in the arts if there is so little transparency about how to access it?
More freelancers have never been a salaried worker in the arts. And if you haven’t been to University, or don’t have a family who can support you, or you’ve learnt your craft outside of the main stream then you can add 10 years on to the amount of time it will take you to breakthrough.
And where advice that is riddled with warped memories of how to ‘breakthrough’ is available in abundance, long term and unbiased development opportunities for freelancers in all stages of their careers are not.
You might be reading this for tips on how to treat freelancers better – some quick wins on paying invoices on time, responding to emails, offering a per diem, recognising there is no such thing as a ‘half day’, or going above that £150 p/day cap we seem to have adopted but these are the basics. How can we honestly say we are attempting to be more inclusive towards freelancers, when the power structures we are operating in are inherently exclusive?
And whilst I will always try to see things from both perspectives – the perspective of managing an organisation, in comparison to managing an independent practice, its undeniable that the power balance is off.
We may be 50% of the workforce, but we are not 50% of the decision makers.
by Emma Beverley, Independent Producer, @ProducerBev
*If you are a freelancer, or anyone working in the theatre and performing arts industry in the UK, the Theatre Helpline is an independent, confidential, free support line. Available 24/7 Theatre Helpline provides advice and support to help deal with challenges including
- Bullying or harassment
- Health issues including mental health
- Injury and mobility problems
- Issues with employment or unemployment
- Career issues including professional development and training
- Retirement and care in later life
- Debt and financial issues