Museum freelancers feel undervalued and underpaid, finds report

Museum Freelance publishes results of first in-depth survey on freelancing in the sector
Freelance Workforce
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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Just 12% of respondents to the survey felt that sector organisations support freelancers
Just 12% of respondents to the survey felt that sector organisations support freelancers Stock photo

Only 47% of self-employed museum workers feel that they are valued and recognised for the work that they do, according to a new research report published this week by Museum Freelance, the organisation that champions freelancers and consultants in museums, galleries and heritage.

The report is based on a survey conducted in March and April this year, which found that many freelancers feel underappreciated, underpaid and unsupported within the sector.

Just 12% of the 314 respondents agreed that sector organisations support freelancers, and more than a fifth (21%) said they are not paid an appropriate day rate. The survey found that 56% of respondents charge day rates of £201-£400, 31% charge £200 or less, 18% £150 or less and 6% £100 or less.

The report said: “Extensive qualitative feedback in the survey highlighted that many freelancers overservice (work more hours than agreed or budgeted for, for the same fee), meaning that their actual day rate is – in reality – much lower than that reported.”

The report added that there was a lack of understanding among sector organisations about how daily freelancer rates are calculated; it said that many employers failed to take into account the business costs and taxes incurred by the freelancer, as well as holiday and sick pay, and hours spent on administrative tasks.

“When all this is accounted for, the lowest day rates can end up providing an income that equates to an actual hourly rate which is around (or even below) the minimum wage,” said the report.

Freelancers also face challenges in balancing their time and dealing with imposter syndrome, the survey found. And while many respondents said they chose to go freelance for greater flexibility and work-life balance, the survey showed that a significant proportion did so out of necessity.

Some 19% said they had started freelancing because they were unable to find paid work and 16% because they had been made redundant – a proportion that is likely to have grown since the survey was conducted due to the impact of Covid.  

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Worryingly, the report found that a majority of respondents (57%) are not contributing to a pension, describing this as a “ticking time-bomb that urgently needs to be tackled”.

However, 60% of respondents agreed that it is possible to make a successful career from freelancing in the cultural sector. Freelancers said organisations could make positive changes by improving day rates and enacting fairer procurement processes, giving freelancers support and advice with PAYE and pensions, giving self-employed workers greater recognition, and including them in planning and training opportunities.

Christina Lister, the co-director of Museum Freelance, said: “With a growing proportion of the museums workforce choosing to – or being forced to – turn to freelancing, it is now more important than ever that the sector tackles the issues identified in this survey.

“Whether you are surprised by the findings or they confirm what you suspected, we now have a good base and clear calls to action on what can be done to address many of the challenges raised in the research. We want the issues raised to get on the sector’s agenda, and the insights to be a catalyst for positive change in the sector.”

Recommendations for organisations:
  • Value freelancers
  • Consult with and include freelancers
  • Provide affordable opportunities open to freelancers
  • Develop and implement best practice procurement processes
  • Develop and implement guidance on contractual issues
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Recommendations for freelancers:
  • Think like a business
  • Stay informed
  • Be assertive
  • Get involved in the Museum Freelance community
  • Recognise and shout about your achievements

Comments (1)

  1. Steve Davis says:

    I applaud this survey, it says everything I have experienced after 45 years in the industry.
    All I would add is that those in power who place contracts need to respect Freelance professionals because many of us have had more training and experience than they have.
    designers are as committed as Architects, Solicitors and Accountants yet we are not given similar respect.
    Steve Davis

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