• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Respondents to the ArtsPay survey say the rising cost of living and historic low levels of pay are causing unsustainable working conditions and forcing people out of the sector.

Analysis of comments provided by respondents to our ArtsPay survey suggests many arts sector workers are being negatively impacted by their low level of income.

ArtsProfessional used artificial intelligence text analysis tool Caplena to analyse the sentiment behind additional comments left by 532 of the respondents to the ArtsPay survey.

The software found 356 (66%) of the comments to be negative, compared to 148 (28%) neutral comments and 32 (6%) positive comments.


The additional comments section gave respondents the opportunity to share information that may not have been picked up by data-driven questions, with many sharing personal stories about struggling to afford to live on their salary or freelance income.

ArtsProfessional Editor Ruth Hogarth said these stories provided examples of “struggle, inequities, challenges in career progression, financial insecurity, poor terms and conditions, insidiously eroded hope and more than a little despair. 

“They reveal a strong sense of injustice and provide context for understanding the talent drain which has undoubtedly affected the arts and culture sector post-pandemic.”

Levels of pay

Caplena found 253 comments to be directly related to levels of pay, analysing 80% (203) as negative.

The word low was used in 94 comments, with hard, difficult and underpaid also used frequently.

Many comments said that pay levels in the arts are lower than in other sectors and not representative of their skill level. Others said there is little opportunity for career progression, with fairer pay rates being only available in more senior positions.

Some suggested organisations should cut pay in top level positions to redistribute to lower level jobs, while others added concerns that low pay rates in entry level positions are preventing some people from being able to enter the sector.

“Working in the arts is supposedly a labour of love, but I should never have tried to forge a career in the sector which does not recompense staff for the amount of work undertaken, and is not in line with other sectors which require the same amount of work. The sector does not support working class people or understand they do not have savings, family or inheritance to fall back on”, one person said.

“The cost-of-living crisis will cripple arts workers, who are already overworked and underpaid for what they do.”

In total, the cost-of-living crisis was mentioned by 44 respondents, equating to 8% of all comments, while a further 27 said their current wage is not keeping up with the rising level of inflation.

“Inflation and cost of living have increased exponentially, making continuing a career in the field I love, and have committed my adult working life to, and general survival incompatible. It’s a fraught and increasingly hopeless situation,” one comment reads.

The cost-of-living crisis was the reason for some respondents' intention to leave the sector. In total, 4% mentioned considering leaving the sector because of low pay, with others saying they had lost colleagues for the same reason.

“I’m looking to leave the arts sector as the pay doesn’t increase with the rise in inflation,” one respondent said.

“How can the arts survive if people who work within the arts struggle to survive financially? Pay and benefits do not reflect the level of experience and education I have. What is the point in sticking around? Life shouldn’t be so difficult.”

Freelancer concerns

Freelancers spoke at large of a lack of security, saying rates in the sector are stagnant which is leaving their finances unsustainable, while others said organisations have cut their freelance budgets since the pandemic.

Another key issue raised was the hidden unpaid work many freelancers are doing to prepare for projects or grants, which often goes unsubsidised.

“The sheer amount of work invested, as a freelancer, to bring a project to fruition means that a huge amount of my work is unpaid and not recoupable,” one respondent explained.

“Being freelance is completely brutal and working for free for months now developing new projects only to have funding bids rejected is completely soul destroying.”

Several comments called for the sector to adopt salary benchmarking to make rates more consistent. The Arts Councils were highlighted as bodies that should do more to set and mediate rates to ensure fair play for freelancers.

Another respondent said: “The arts sector is becoming an increasingly exploitative workplace, expecting skilled and experienced freelancers, in particular, to work well beyond what they are being paid.

“No wonder so many are voting with their feet and rethinking the sector in which they work.”