78% of Museum Freelancers in the UK Lost Income Due to COVID: Survey

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With people going into freelancing as a result of the pandemic, it may seem like all is well for freelancers. But a new study shows that not everyone benefits from this new reality. While white collar freelance hiring is higher year over year, one type of white collar freelancer is losing: museum freelancers. 

A new survey released by Museum Freelance found that 78% of freelancers in museums and other heritage sites lost income between March and October 2020. While Museum Freelance focuses on the UK, American museums have been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic as well, according to the LA Times

An income drop and no support insight

In the survey, respondents named two key reasons why their income was dropping. Both are due to the pandemic. Over half (53%) faced cancelled projects or contracts that were ready to go between March and October 2020. Further, 63% had projects postponed due to the pandemic. 

Unfortunately for many, the UK government’s support systems aren’t enough. The government launched the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), ostensibly to help freelancers like those who work in museums. However, more than half (52%) don’t qualify for support. 

“Our findings reveal the high proportion of freelancers in our sector who have fallen through the government support cracks and not been eligible for the SEISS,” said Museum Freelance co-director Marge Ainsley.

This lack of support has led many to feel they have been abandoned by the sector, with one respondent saying,“It’s been a difficult time and feels depressing that I am completely unsupported by the sector and clients I have worked with for years.”

As a result of deferred income and limited support, 67% have had to rely on borrowing, savings, or grants to get by. Ainsley responded to these stats with a clear call for government support.

“We urgently call on the government to rethink support measures to provide much-needed financial support for them,” said Ainsley.

The impact on cultural heritage and museum freelancers

If things continue as they are, there’s a risk to heritage preservation work. Museum Freelance alone has a community of over 1,100, according to its website. Due to limited COVID supports, 37% are looking for freelance work outside the museum sector within the next six months. If great talent leaves, it calls into question who will do the necessary preservation work.

“For the sector, there is a risk that some of their experience and expertise is lost, as freelancers are forced to look for income and opportunities elsewhere,” said Ainsley.

Ainsley says that the calls for government support are not a way to make freelancing any easier. Instead, it’s to recognize the scale of the pandemic and its impact on freelance workers in heritage roles.

“While freelancing has always been precarious, the scale, severity and sustained nature of the issues faced are extraordinary. The ongoing uncertainty and longevity of this crisis means that the repercussions are likely to endure for months – if not years – to come,” said Ainsley.

Read Next: Three Experienced Freelancers on Navigating COVID (and Their Advice for New Freelancers)