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‘Less money and job insecurity’ – landmark survey reveals ‘career penalties’ of parents working in performing arts

Those with caring duties earn up to £3,000 less annually than their counterparts and are often forced to make a “career and salary sacrifice”, new research claims. Photo: Abby Warren
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A landmark study has laid bare the challenges facing people with caring responsibilities in the performing arts.

The research reveals people with caring duties earn up to £3,000 less annually than their counterparts and are often forced to make a “career and salary sacrifice”. In some cases, participants admitted to giving up their jobs completely once they have children, with the survey highlighting the difficulties faced by freelances in particular.

The Balancing Act survey was carried out by campaigning body Parents in Performing Arts in partnership with Birkbeck, University of London.

It is described as the first national benchmarking survey of the performing arts and includes contributions from more than 2,500 people across dance, music and theatre. More than a thousand of the respondents were those with caring responsibilities, and the majority worked in theatre.

The findings reveal:

  • Carers earn £3,000 less a year than those who do not have such responsibilities. The median earnings for carers is £20,000, with non-carers earning £23,000.
  • 76% of carers have had to turn down work because of childcare responsibilities. For freelances, this rises to 85%.
  • 44% of women have had to change roles due to childcare duties, compared with 23% of male carers.
  • 50% of female carers have had to change job location because of their childcare issues, with 36% of men reporting the same. Of those who had changed roles, only 19% agreed that they received adequate training.
  • 43% of women and 32% of men would like to increase their working hours in the arts, if adequate childcare were available.

Following publication of the research, PIPA is urging industry bodies and employers to establish career development opportunities for parents returning to work, and for equal opportunities monitoring to include carers and parents.

PIPA is also urging organisations to review their working practices, in line with its own Best Practice Charter, to “adopt a flexible approach to recruitment, management and development for all staff”.

Actor Cassie Raine, who is co-founder of PIPA, said: “This is a great opportunity to reflect as an industry and investigate more supportive working practices, inclusive of carers and parents, whether they are single parents or caring for sick or elderly relatives.”

She added: “No matter where you start off in life or what happens on the way, as an industry we have to show that we are invested in workforce well-being and value the ability to maintain a work-life balance.”

The majority of respondents (54%) were freelances. Just 29% were in full-time employment. Carers were more likely to be freelance, the survey found.

It added that freelance workers are “vulnerable” as they have to rely on their own resources and support structures to continue working. They report that low earnings do not allow freelances to cover unexpected expenses. The report claims the median annual earnings for freelances is £16,000 a year. The UK average salary is around £27,500.

In addition, the survey pointed to the low wages of people working on stage, with a median of £12,000, and more than a third of respondents said their wages never or rarely covered typical outgoings.

The survey also highlighted how parents and carers “report a career and salary sacrifice in order to fulfil caring responsibilities” and are unable to access career opportunities. This, it states, is because those working in the performing arts “rely on other income to pursue their arts careers, and habitually give up performance work once they become parents”.

Responding to the findings, UK Theatre head Cassie Chadderton said it was “concerning that so many freelances with caring responsibilities feel they must make career sacrifices to balance their personal and professional duties”.

“It is evident that the performing arts industry should take a more flexible approach to recruitment and career development opportunities, giving carers and parents a better chance to maintain a career, and resulting in a more skilled, diverse industry,” she added.

The report found that 79% of female respondents reported that they were the primary carer, but only 16% of male respondents said the same. In addition, 74% of men and 72% of women said they would like to access shared parental leave if it were available.

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