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The members' survey analysis also reveals Black people and the young are disproportionately leaving the sector after the pandemic.


Patrick Gantz

Six in ten Equity members are expecting to encounter difficulty meeting essential costs due to the rising cost of living, according to an Equity survey.

Almost half (47%) of respondents said they experienced financial difficulties in the last year, with a third saying their personal debt increased during the same time period. 

The analysis from the performing arts union also found that Black people and the young are disproportionately represented among those leaving the sector, following the impact of Covid.


Equity General Secretary Paul Fleming said the members' survey confirmed the cost-of-living crisis is “a workforce crisis”, adding the government must step up to “end austerity, use taxpayer money to tackle the cost of living, support the creative industries to fully recover from the pandemic and fund public services”.

Fleming’s comments came ahead of last weekend’s cost-of-living demonstration, with Equity activists marching alongside other trade unions in London.

The survey shows Equity members are concerned that crippling inflation could lead to a loss of talent in the sector.

Almost one fifth (19%) said they anticipate leaving the industry due to the crisis, with almost half (46%) unsure. Only 36% said they don't expect to leave. 

89% think the cost-of-living crisis will force the low paid and artists from working class backgrounds out of the industry.

Talent drain

Equity says Black people and young people have “already left the profession in droves” following the impact of Covid.

The union compared DCMS workforce estimates from January to December 2019 and October 2020 to September 2021, finding the number of people aged 16-24 working in the sector decreased by 19%, while the number of people aged 55-64 increased by 14%.

The number of Black African and Caribbean people working in music, performing and visual arts fell by 39% in the same time period. The number of white people working in the sector fell by 9%.

These findings reflect the same concerns raised in Equity’s survey. 72% of respondents said they thought the cost-of-living crisis would add pressure on young artists and postgraduates entering the sector, while almost two-thirds (65%) expected the crisis would make things worse for marginalised groups, including women, Black and deaf and disabled artists.

CEO of Leicester-based arts charity The Mighty Creatives Nick Owen told ArtsProfessional the drop in the number of young people in the sector “is of little surprise given the unprecedented challenges young people and early career entrants have faced in over the last two years”.

In the last decade, entries to arts GCSEs declined by 37% and entries to arts A Levels declined by 30%.

“When this is coupled with the chaos that Covid brought about on young peoples’ education, the knock-on effects on the talent pipeline that our sector relies upon are proving to be severe,” Owen said.

He added the rising cost of living is going to be “another factor which prevents the diversification of the talent pipeline we so desperately need in this country”.

“The people who will manage the challenges will be the usual suspects: privileged by family and fortune for whom the current financial climate means one less holiday abroad a year, not one less meal a day.”

Unsurprising results

Inc Arts Head of Training and Client Services, Rekha Dosaj said Equity's findings “are worrying and saddening, but unfortunately not surprising”.

“When there are societal and political changes like those we have experienced across the past two years – from Covid and Brexit to the cost-of-living crisis – the impact is always felt hardest on those who experience marginalisation.”

Equity’s findings reflect Inc Arts’ report, COVID-19 and its impact on the UK’s Black, Asian and ethnically diverse arts workforce, which found Black, Asian and ethnically diverse freelance sector workers were experiencing disproportionally high levels of redundancy during the pandemic.

The report also found ethnically diverse people are under-represented in the arts sector yet over-represented amongst the arts freelance community, but not in roles that grow to leadership positions.

“This is already a precarious working situation and when the cost of living increases, that precarity is heightened, so naturally our diverse talent might not find an equitable working environment for them in the creative sector,” Dosaj explained.

“The cost-of-living crisis is naturally going to impact the creative sector’s diverse talent in a negative way.”