Our statement on the cost of living crisis
The Museums Association (MA) is deeply concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis on museums across the UK. The rapidly increasing rate of inflation is causing severe problems for our institutional and individual members and for the wider sector. We set out below some of the main impacts:
Museum workers are already poorly paid against equivalent roles elsewhere in the economy, as evidenced by our 2017 Salary Survey. Double digit inflation combined with pay increases that are well below the rate of inflation mean that museum workers are seeing their real terms incomes decreasing at the fastest rate for decades.
Many workers in the sector will struggle to meet rapidly rising energy and food costs in coming months, which is already having hugely negative effects on both physical and mental wellbeing.
Museums are facing rapidly increasing costs across their operations. In particular, energy costs are causing significant problems for the sector as organisations seek to maintain appropriate conditions for audiences and for collections. The impact is disproportionate for museums which are often sited in energy-hungry heritage buildings.
Other costs are also rising, including wage bills and capital project costs and other pressures on parent organisation budgets, such as local authority services. These stresses are arriving in a period when the sector is still in the process of rebuilding after the pandemic and a decade of austerity. Many organisations are not in a strong position to deal with this continuing economic shock.
The cost of living crisis is already having an impact on consumption patterns. The public is becoming less willing to spend on paid-for museum experiences, including charging museums and temporary exhibitions. This is evidenced in the latest ALVA Public Sentiment research which shows that the cost of living has now overtaken Covid as the principal reason to not visit an attraction. This is a significant blow for museums that were successfully rebuilding audiences post-pandemic.
Meanwhile, museums with free entry may see an increase in use by the public as they remain one of the few cost-free days out for communities. In addition, many museums have pledged to be warm and welcoming spaces during the winter by people unable to warm their own homes.
We are calling for:
- Pay – Museums and funding bodies to work together to ensure that substantial pay offers are made to the museum workforce this financial year. Museum workers need pay settlements that will enable them to keep pace with the cost of living pressures that they are experiencing, and will close the pay gap between museum workers and those in equivalent roles in other sectors.
- Investment – Governments, arms-length bodies and local authorities to work together to invest strategically in the museum sector. Maintaining revenue support is vital for organisations to stay open in this challenging period. We also support action to make the MEND (England-only) and MGETR schemes permanent and UK-wide, with a focus on supporting museums to improve their energy efficiency and reduce consumption in areas such as collections storage. Museums across the UK need a new phase of the Culture Recovery Fund to ensure that they can survive this current crisis and build sustainable business models for the future.
- Energy bill support – We are calling for urgent action to help museums meet the rapidly rising cost of energy. Energy is a large, fixed cost which museums are obliged to cover in order to stay open and to maintain environmental standards for the collections they hold. The energy price cap is welcome but many of our members are seeing bill increases of 200%. It is vital that the energy price cap is extended beyond the six-month review period. This support should be put in place to ensure that museums are able to act as warm spaces for communities during the winter and maintain the standards required to care for public collections.
We are continuing our support for wellbeing, better pay and investment in the sector with a range of research and campaigns over the coming months. You can find out more on this website.
See our guidance on how museums can support their employees, freelancers and volunteers during the cost of living crisis