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‘Major companies still failing disabled’ – Arts Council report

Reasons to be Cheerful – Graeae is an Arts Council NPO led by and championing the work of Deaf and disabled people. Photo: Patrick Baldwin
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Black and minority ethnic representation among Arts Council-funded theatres is improving but the sector is still failing people with a disability, a new report has found.

The findings, highlighted in the second publication of data from Arts Council England’s diversity monitoring, show that some major organisations, including English National Opera and Bristol Old Vic, have no disabled staff at all.

The report reveals that, despite BAME representation improving to 17% of the workforce, just 4% of staff in the 663 national portfolio organisations defined themselves as having a disability.

According to the annual population survey, the percentage of the working age population with some form of disability is 19%.

The report found that, in 2014/15:

• 26 of the largest NPOs – those that employ more than 50 people – had no disabled employees at all.
• Major organisations including English National Opera, the Roundhouse, Bristol Old Vic and Opera North had no people with a disability on their permanent staff.
• NPOs with just 1% of permanent staff listed as having a disability include Chichester Festival Theatre, English National Ballet, Sheffield Theatres and the Royal Exchange.
• Hall for Cornwall and the Lowry in Salford were among the organisations with the highest percentage of disabled staff, recording 11% and 10% respectively.

According to the report, other organisations listing no disabled staff include the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, Stockton ARC, Contact Theatre, Soho Theatre, Oxford Playhouse, Harrogate Theatre and the Oldham Coliseum.

The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry also had 10%, while Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Curve recorded 8% and 7% respectively.

No organisation had a percentage of disabled staff that was representative of the working population. The overall figure has improved on last year, however, when disabled people made up just 1.9% of NPO employees.

In a speech launching the report, Arts Council chief executive Darren Henley said despite the progress being made in some areas of diversity, he was disappointed with the findings around disability.

“We all have to do better,” he said.

The 2015/16 survey also includes diversity data for leadership positions for the first time.

It found that 5% of chief executives, artistic directors and chairs were disabled, however in each respective category, 25%, 38% and 25% did not wish to disclose information.

The report goes on to say that the picture around disability is complicated by various factors that should be taken into account, such as definitions of disability and the reluctance of participants to disclose personal information.

It said ACE was encouraged, however, to find the number of NPOs that identified as being disability-led increased from five in 2014/15 to 19 in 2015/16. This is based on organisations where 51% or more of the senior management team or board are disabled.

ACE said this increase reflected the fact that “a growing number of organisations have successfully diversified their senior management teams and board membership from a disability perspective”.

The report also found that in 2015/16 NPOs staged 853 more accessible performances than the previous year, totalling 4,613.

Henley went on to say that more work was needed to discover why the figures were so low, and said ACE had expressed concerns with government about changes being made and the impact they could have in the arts.

A good practice guide on disability, which will include recommendations on access, progression routes and changes to working culture, will be published by ACE next year, Henley confirmed.

In contrast, the report found that the percentage of BAME staff across Arts Council’s funded organisations increased to 17% from last year’s 13.9%.

It is also now higher than the average among the wider working population, which is 15%.

Henley said the improving picture for BAME representation proved that the arts are “moving in the right direction” but it was important to keep in focus the “long-term cultural change” that is needed.

In terms of BAME representation among leadership positions, the figures were 8% of chief executives, 10% of artistic directors and 9% of chairs.

Henley said that for change to be real, “there needs to be more diversity at the top”.

Last year’s report found 13 ACE-funded theatres – with more than 50 staff – that recorded 5% or fewer BAME employees among their permanent staff. Of these, none had increased their percentage above 5%.

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