The cost-of-living crisis continues to impact museums across England, and the situation is expected to get worse before it gets better, according to a new report.
Funded by Arts Council England and produced by South West Museum Development, the Annual Museums Survey gathered data on 700 accredited non-national English museums. It found while visitor numbers in 2022/23 were higher than the previous year, they were down 18% on pre-pandemic levels.
Museums also reported increased expenditure of 10%, mainly on energy bills, materials, staff costs and travel. At the same time, visitor spending was down overall and some organisations had also experienced a drop in donations.
After a slight increase in reported income during 2020/21 and 2021/22, overall income for museums dropped by 3% in 2022/23.
The report found museums attempting to balance the need to generate more revenue by increasing ticket prices with a desire to keep admission fees low to encourage visitors.
Respondents said schools were struggling to fund museum visits for pupils, especially the transport costs. The report concluded that museum visitor demographics and behaviour are increasingly difficult to predict.
The cost-of-living crisis has also significantly impacted museum staff and volunteers, according to the survey, as some employees departed for higher-paid jobs or moved to new roles closer to home.
Seasonal staff and lower-paid positions in retail, catering and cleaning proved challenging to hire, while some volunteers returned to paid jobs or could not afford to travel to perform their roles.
Despite this, the number of volunteers increased last year by 11%, only 5% fewer than pre-pandemic levels.
Victoria Harding, Programme Manager at South West Museum Development, said: "A range of factors, such as free entry and geography, have influenced the degree to which museum visitors have returned to pre-pandemic levels.
"However, across the sector, irrespective of how successfully museums have generated increased income through a variety of new, or enhanced, ways this progress is outstripped by the increase in expenditure reported by 64% of museums."