The arts and entertainment industry is being hit harder by Covid-19 than almost any other sector in the British economy, according to research by the Office for National Statistics.
More businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry reported that they are temporarily closed, while the sector also reported the highest number of businesses witnessing a turnover decrease of more than 50%. The industry is also the joint highest adopter of the furlough scheme, the ONS data suggests.
The responses come from the latest fortnightly business survey, conducted by ONS, and covers the effects of coronavirus on turnover, workforce and trade of 6,364 businesses between May 4 and 17.
Three-quarters of arts and entertainment businesses said they were temporarily closed or had paused trading, a higher figure than for any other industry and more than four times the average across all industries, which was 18%.
Just 3% of arts and entertainment businesses not currently trading said they expected to begin trading again in the next two to four weeks, fewer than any other sector of the economy, while 48% said they did not anticipate operating again for more than four weeks, in this case a larger proportion than any other sector.
Almost half (46%) said they were unsure when they would be able to begin trading, which is about average for all industries (45%).
Most theatres look set to be closed for several months yet, and while some are intending to reopen for the Christmas period, others have already confirmed that they will not be able to begin performances again until January 2021 at the earliest.
When asked about turnover, 26% of all businesses responding to the survey said their revenue had decreased by more than 50%. However, for those in the arts and entertainment sector, this figure is 63%. Only the accommodation and food services sector reported similarly heavy losses, with 62% of businesses claiming thei turnover has fallen by more than 50%.
Theatres alone have estimated that they stand to lose £630 million as a result of venues being closed between March and mid-June, with many warning they will end the financial year with significant deficits or be out of business entirely without additional support.
Meanwhile, the ONS’ survey suggested that 20% of the total UK workforce has been furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme, with the creative industries and accommodation and food services sectors using the measure the most (63%).
Organisations from across theatre and the arts are warning of the consequences that closing the furlough scheme will have, with unions anticipating "mass redundancies".
Extending the scheme is among the asks to government from sector bodies including the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
The ISM’s chief executive, Deborah Annetts, said the latest ONS data proved its argument "that the creative industries has been battered by Covid-19 and have borne the brunt of the economic damage caused by this pandemic".
"With social-gathering restrictions set to stay in place, there will be no return to business as usual for venues and live performers any time soon. This is why the ISM is calling for the government to maintain its current rate of furlough contribution and put in place a long-term financial support package for the creative industries, whether through tax relief or direct support," she added.