The Big Freelancer Survey Report 2024: Freelancers At Breaking Point

The fourth Big Freelancer Survey Report is released today, presenting a workforce at breaking point.

1286 freelancers filled in this year’s survey, taking the total number of respondents over the four surveys so far to well over twelve thousand – the biggest ongoing survey of its kind, and an incredible effort from all of you who have taken the time to respond. Huge thanks to you all – this is your survey, and your report.

BFS2024 reveals that in the financial year 2022-23, over a third of theatre freelancers reported average hourly earnings below the UK National Living Wage – in other words, rates of pay which would be illegal in a PAYE job.

The issue of low pay was visible in all demographic groups that participated in the survey, although it was particularly severe for respondents living with one or more disabilities or other medical conditions.

Freelancers reported that years of inadequate low pay alongside long hours and a void in arts funding has left them feeling that they – and the industry – are at breaking point. BFS2024 paints a picture of a community of freelancers who are deeply committed to their work and to supporting each other, but are struggling to continue against a backdrop of destructive government arts policies, funding that is scarce and difficult to access, and organisations that have been described as ‘abusive’ in the structures they uphold and perpetuate.

One of the key recommendations in this year’s report is that arts organisations move away from payment models of flat-fees and buyouts, and towards compensation based on actual hours worked, including paid overtime. As part of this process, organisations must also recognise that union rates are supposed to be minimums, rather than standard fees. The report also calls on funders to hold their grant-holders accountable for freelancers’ pay and working conditions.

Commenting on this year’s report, classical singer and FMTW volunteer Mimi Doulton said: “The clear message throughout this year’s report is that whilst there is an evident love for the job and the craft of theatre-making, as one of our respondents aptly put it: ‘love is not enough’.”

In a few days’ time, the UK will have a new government. The BFS2024 report makes it clear that urgent action is needed to secure the future of the freelance workforce, without which the world-leading British performing arts industry cannot survive. In many aspects, freelancers are effectively treated as second-class citizens. Both the industry and the government need to look at systemic reforms to empower freelancers, to close gaps in access, and increase career security for all. None of this can be achieved without a serious financial investment in the arts, not only from the private sector, but via direct state support. The industry generates an estimated £126billion for the UK economy every year. But the industry cannot survive without its freelance workforce. Significant proportions of this workforce report pay, terms and conditions, and working hours that would be illegal for PAYE employees, yet the industry depends on their commitment, experience and expertise. This is a moment of crisis, and urgent action is needed: freelancers are at breaking point.

Download and read the Big Freelancer Survey Report 2024 here.

The Big Freelancer Survey is an annual survey of the UK’s freelance performing arts workforce, carried out by Freelancers Make Theatre Work in partnership with the Centre for Work, Organisation and Society at the University of Essex. The aim of the Big Freelancer Survey is to provide an evidence base for FMTW and other organisations that support freelancers. The evidence is used to advocate and lobby for a fair and sustainable future for freelance workers across the UK’s theatre and entertainment industries.