Women in creative industries call for change

The TUC’s women’s conference heard from many in precarious creative industries who are being forced out because of the cost of living, including the cost of childcare.


The voices of freelance, self employed and atypical workers were clearly heard at this week’s TUC women’s conference.

Motion after motion touched on some the issues faced by women who miss out on some of the key protections employees are entitled to.

Freelances are often among the worst paid and their work security has been badly affected by the Covid pandemic. Several are in the creative industries. A spokesperson for Equity, for instance, said that the average earnings of an actor are around £10K a year and many miss out on support through Universal Credit because of the minimum income floor.

Jean Rodgers from Equity said she had felt optimistic about women in the acting profession after work by Parents in the Performing Arts, but Covid and the cost of living crisis has put paid to that. The result is broader than just the culture sector, she said, as the arts are important for everyone’s wellbeing and their funding needs to be safeguarded.

Another speaker from Equity said the profession was so precarious that many were forced to give it up. She spoke of mothers turning down work – at a time when acting work is scarce – because it doesn’t cover their childcare costs. Losing mums would have an impact on the availability of older women actors further down the line, with a knock-on effect on the number of women and women’s experiences displayed on our screens. The same speaker said she had turned down a role recently because it was part of a touring production and there was an unpaid gap in the middle which she couldn’t afford to cover.

A representative of the Public and Commercial Services union, a performance poet, said women in the creative industries were often in a precarious position, with no maternity leave or other rights. Many face in-work poverty and deprivation in retirement. Marginalised women have been worst affected, with the number of Black women in the creative sector halving during the pandemic. Many creatives had been hit by austerity, were initially left out of the Government’s Covid support package and now faced the cost of living crisis.

The conference heard calls for more rights, benefits reform and better pay for those in the most precarious and low paid professions.

In addition to pay, it also debated the gender pension gap – the cumulation of years of lower pay for women and career breaks for caring responsibilities – and heard calls for increases in employer contributions among other actions. There was also a call for more women to join pensions boards, where they are currently underrepresented, to raise issues around the gender pension gap. There were fears that the gap could get worse with women more likely to reduce or suspend pension contributions due to the cost of living crisis. One woman from Equity who is about to turn 40 cited a letter from her pension company telling her she would get a pension of £1,100 if she retired at 75 which would pay her less than £10 a month.

She said: “I want the autonomy to age well. We are stuck in this system and we must fight for pension parity. Let’s age well and let’s live long so we can take apart this frigging system.”

Other issues covered in the conference included low pay generally, carers, violence and harassment against women, the menopause and health issues such as endometriosis.

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