Big Freelancer Survey 2024 logo

The Big Freelancer Survey aims to provide a detailed report of the past 12 months. This data will feed into ongoing lobbying of both industry bodies and government, informing them where support is most needed and what the greatest issues facing freelancers are.

About this year’s survey

The aim of the Big Freelancer Survey is to provide an evidence base for Freelancers Make Theatre Work and other organisations that support freelancers. We use this evidence to advocate and lobby for a fair and sustainable future for freelance workers across the UK’s theatre and entertainment industries.

Over 1200 freelancers took part in BFS4, which included a mix of pre-coded and free text questions. The survey was designed and analysed by the survey team, in consultation and collaboration with the wider FMTW community.

In this year’s survey, freelancers were asked about pay, working terms and conditions, financial preparations for retirement, parenting/caring responsibilities, and also about the positive aspects of being a freelancer in the sector. This enabled us to understand a widespread problem highlighted in BFS3: excessive working hours and low pay, resulting in many freelancers ‘donating’ labour to the industry. This year’s survey has delved deeper into why freelancers continue to enter and remain in the industry, despite issues associated with low pay, job insecurity and poor terms and working conditions. Through this data, we have been able to understand more about freelancers’ motivations and positive experiences of freelance work in the sector.

The BFS3 report, ‘Underpaid, Undervalued, Under Pressure’, published in June 2023 has been cited multiple times in Parliament. Advocates have used it to lobby for a Freelance Commissioner whose duties include a specific remit for freelancers working in the entertainment industry, due to the unique and complex challenges they often face. The report’s findings and recommendations have also helped to raise awareness of a significant and persistent gender pay gap. These insights have been cited across news, broadcast, print and social media, with widespread coverage of the report in professional and industry publications. Additionally, evidence for the report was accepted by a Department of Work and Pensions inquiry into freelancers’ lack of access to statutory sick pay in March 2024.

This work can only happen because of freelancers’ continued commitment to participating in the survey and to sharing its findings and recommendations as widely as possible, and for this we are very grateful – thank you.

The FMTW Big Freelancer Survey team

Executive Summary

Freelancers at breaking point

The Big Freelancer Survey 2024 is a story of two halves, contrasting a community of freelancers who are deeply committed to their work and to supporting each other, with an industry that is described as ‘abusive’ in the structures it upholds, and practices it perpetuates.

Continuing a concerning trend from previous surveys, BFS 2024 presents a workforce that is at breaking point due to unsustainably low pay and long hours, compounded by a void in arts funding. This year‘s data reveals that in the financial year 2022-23, over a third of freelancers reported average hourly earnings below the National Living Wage for that period; wages that would be illegal in the context of a PAYE job. Furthermore, almost a fifth of respondents reported working an average of 50 or more hours per week over the past year, which is over the legal limit defined in the Working Time Directive.

The cost-of-living crisis in the UK continues to exacerbate inequalities within the industry, although it is interesting to observe that throughout various demographic groups, no group showed less than a quarter of respondents earning under the National Living Wage. The situation is particularly severe for respondents who identify as having one or more disabilities or other medical conditions, with freelancers in this group earning disproportionately lower pay than others. Meanwhile on the other end of the income scale, not one of the respondents earning over £60,000 a year came from a less privileged socio-economic background.

A particular concern is the unsustainable funding model for the arts in the UK, which not only impacts the volume of work – and employment opportunities – that government funded organisations can offer, but also has a direct effect on freelancers who are running small companies or self-producing work. Whilst 22% of respondents reported receiving financial support from family or friends, less than 12% of respondents reported receiving support from an arts council, local government or charitable grant. Significant funding cuts in the first two categories have dramatically increased competition for funding from charities, as organisations that were previously funded by the government seek new financial solutions.

The clear message throughout this year‘s survey was that although freelancers feel valued, respected and uplifted by their colleagues, they feel there is a lack of support from arts organisations, politicians, and funding bodies. Whilst there is an evident love for the job and the craft of theatre-making, as one freelancer aptly put it: ‘love is not enough’.

The Big Freelancer Survey is conducted by Freelancers Make Theatre Work in partnership with The University of Essex.

The Big Freelancer Survey (BFS) team consists of Freelancers Make Theatre Work (FMTW) members of staff and volunteers: Josie Underwood, Alistair Cope, Mimi Doulton, and Paul Carey Jones. The team also includes Melissa Tyler, co-director of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Society at the University of Essex. The team is very grateful to Sarah Cope and Philip Hancock for contributing to the presentation of findings and preparation of this report.

Special thanks to Jake Orr, Freddie Crossley and Paule Constable for their contribution to the audio versions.

University of Essex logo