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DACS provides a briefing for a House of Lords debate on freelancers in the creative industries.

A white woman sitting, looking at her prints in her studio

DACS, in collaboration with a-n and CVAN, provided a briefing to attendees ahead of a House of Lords debate asking the UK Government what support they intend to give to freelancers and self-employed workers in the arts and creative industries, and what assessment they have made of the case for a Commissioner for freelancers.

70% of workers in the visual arts are freelancers, including: artists, producers, curators, writers and technicians. Artists and visual arts workers are poorly served by policy infrastructure, leading to:

  • widespread low pay: the total median income of visual artists is £12,500 with only £2,000 coming from art practice

  • a lack of access to funding and financial support for individuals: the majority of artists rely on Arts Council England Funding; the application success rate is just 7%

  • a precarity of labour when opportunities do arise

Introducing the debate, the Earl of Clancarty said:

Freelancers, particularly in the arts, have been described as the backbone of the landscape. This is a particularly apt metaphor, with its sense of the strength and necessity of the sector but also its vulnerability. The pandemic very much highlighted that, with many workers forced out of the sector—a terrible waste of skills—because of patchy support that the Government provided at the time.

Earl of Clancarty

The debate addressed the systemic issues of low pay and precarity of labour for artists and freelancers within the visual arts, with Lord Cashman pointing to the recent report by Industria of artists earning an average of £2.60/hour when working with publicly funded organisations. Referring to the Smart Fund proposal supported by ALCS, BECS, DACS, Directors UK and PICSEL, Lord Cashman remarked: “the working models are there; I hope the Government have the common sense to adopt them”.

Self-employed creatives contribute culturally important work which cements the UK’s reputation as a cultural powerhouse internationally. The UK’s creative economy relies on its freelance workforce, and there is an urgent need to move towards parity for freelance workers in the sector.