Half of performers earn less than £5k a year – survey

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About half of Equity members undertook unpaid work in the past 12 months, with a similar proportion earning less than £5,000 over the year.

According to the results of a union survey of members, 45.9% of those who responded said they had taken a job for no pay in the 12 months since November 2012. Of these, 51.9% also received no expenses. The survey revealed that theatre was the most common sector to work for no pay in, followed by film.

It found that 49% of respondents earned less than £5,000 in the past 12 months, while just 0.7% earned more than £100,000.

In addition, 45.5% of respondents worked for fewer than 10 weeks or not at all in the past year. Some 20% worked 10 to 20 weeks, while just 12.3% said they had worked for more than 40 weeks.

In 2010, when Equity conducted its last survey, 63.1% had worked for fewer than 10 weeks in the previous year.

Equity assistant general secretary Stephen Spence said: “This survey confirms what we’ve known for some time, that a large proportion of Equity members undertake no-pay work. The key issue is, how much of this is genuine artistic collaborative work between artists who have an equal share in both the risks and the benefits and how much is ‘bogus’ profit-share which is, in reality, unpaid employment. The union will continue to give every support to members who should have been paid at least the minimum wage to challenge employers at tribunals.”

Equity’s most recent survey also found that the biggest single source of work for members in the past 12 months was television, with 32.3% listing the medium, compared with 28.4% listing regional theatre, 28.3% listing fringe theatre and 19.8% stating commercial theatre. The findings also showed that 10.9% felt there had been a growing trend of “acting opportunities being denied unless members agreed to appear nude”. However, 95.8% said they had never been pressurised to appear nude at a casting.

Of those surveyed, 66% cited arts funding cuts as the most important issue affecting the industry, followed by rights over performers’ work (61.8%) and low pay/ no pay jobs (53.2%).

In addition, around half – 47.8% - said they were concerned about non-professionals working in theatre and TV.

In terms of equality, the biggest issue for respondents was bullying or discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members (55.9%).

More than 3,000 Equity members took part in the survey, of which 61.4% worked mostly as actors. The next biggest group was stage management (4.2%).


  1. Apologies if I’ve overlooked it, but it’d be *really* useful to know how many members Equity has altogether, and what proportion of them 3,000 represents.

    Also, whether the sample was self-selecting, randomly picked, or generated to be representative…

  2. Hi Andrew,
    Your point is well-made. As with most things Equity, engagement of the membership, and their responses to elections and surveys is pretty low – with 12% being regarded as a high.
    According to the 2012 Accounts, membership was 37,429, up from 36,785 in 2011.
    So, using last years figure, the 3,000 respondees represent just 8% of the membership, probably less, given the rise in membership year-on-year.
    From what I recall also, this survey was not ‘closed’ and restricted to purely Equity members, it was open, anyone could respond, as do so as many times as they liked.

  3. 4.10shillings for chorus girls when I started and 2 pounds of that was for digs . Agreed it was a while ago being in the 50s but still very little money. They work the hardest with paltry pay. Time the big boys paid up.

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