Museum Freelance poll shows devastating toll of Covid-19 pandemic on the self-employed

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on freelancers working in the museum and heritage sectors, with 78% having seen a decrease in their income in March to October 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, but only 47% being eligible for grants from the government’s SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme).

Museum Freelance, the organisation that supports and champions freelancers and consultants working with museums, galleries, heritage sites, archives and galleries, ran a poll between 12 and 30 November 2020, to explore the key challenges that freelancers face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 305 freelancers took part.

53% have had one or more projects or contracts cancelled, and 63% have had one or more projects or contracts postponed.

As a result, 67% have had to find alternative sources of income (including using savings, borrowing, receiving a grant) 37% are going to look for or start freelancing outside the cultural/heritage sector in the next six months.

Whilst a third of freelancers report that they have pivoted or adapted their services in a Covid-19 world (e.g. offering training courses online or offering a new service), for some types of work this is just not a possibility.

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.

The pandemic has also had a detrimental impact on freelancers’ mental health, with the qualitative responses in the poll documenting stress, anxiety and feeling isolated, unsupported and undervalued.

Museum Freelance will use the statistics and insights from the poll to continue to lobby for more support for the self-employed in the sector, sharing the findings with funding bodies, sector support organisations, DCMS and other self-employed lobbying groups.

Marge Ainsley, co-director of Museum Freelance, said: “We’re dismayed to read these findings. These poll results clearly demonstrate that whilst the SEISS is a lifeline for many, it is not a panacea. 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. We urgently call on the Government to rethink support measures to provide much-needed financial support for them.

“Whilst 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.

“A huge thank you to all the freelancers who took part and took the time to share their thoughts so honestly and generously.”

The full poll report is now available to download and Museum Freelance is calling for organisations to read the open letter they wrote back in March which sets out how organisations can support freelancers during this difficult time.

Marge Ainsley