What our members are telling us

Since 2012, the Scottish Artists Union has surveyed the experiences of artists working in Scotland on a yearly basis. Members have shared: concerns about their professional sector; personal experiences of work; detailed information about their careers; and vital feedback on the services the union provides. We would like to thank all of our members who have taken time out of their busy schedules to add their voice to the collective experience of being an artist living and working in Scotland today.


The survey allows us to gain an accurate reflection of the lives of artists in Scotland, and also to map trends and changes each year. Our survey has become the largest survey of artists in Scotland, and is referenced by many arts organisations, media outlets and the Scottish Government. The following report not only looks at the membership’s current responses but also looks back at the trends formulated between 2012 and 2018.


The actions our union undertakes on your behalf are in direct response to the needs, concerns and experiences provided in the survey. This gives us an invaluable opportunity to have our voices heard. We would like to thank all of the membership for their continued engagement over the past 6 years.


While the sector seems to be in constant flux and the wider political landscape is experiencing many ruptures, some things remain the same. 80% of our membership are self-employed, which is considerably higher than within the regular working population. Self-employment continues to grow across the wider labour market- figures published by the RSA show that one in seven of the UK workforce are now self- employed with many workers across sectors navigating the financial ebbs and flows of limited contractual work. https://www.thersa.org/about-us/media/2017/self-employed-turning-to-one-another-to-get-through-illness-and-hard- times


Since 2012, the self-employed earnings of our members have decreased. In the wider UK, the typical self- employed person now earns 40% less than their employed counterpart - while the salaries of arts employees have seen an increase since the recession, freelance earnings have seen a continual downturn (see trends in income in the survey notes). The labour of artists continues to subsidise the wider creative sector with artists consistently being some of the lowest paid workers - often working without contracts or adequate pay, and far too often being expected to work for free. (Note in reference to wider employment: “Low pay has also been defined in relation to the cost of living by the Minimum Income Standard Project. By their calculations, anything less than £15,000 a year, before tax, counts as low pay.” Unison - "In April 2017 the median, or typical gross salary in Scotland for all employees was £23,150." https://sp-bpr-en-prod-cdnep.azureedge.net/published/2017/11/21/Earnings-in-Scotland--2017/SB%2017-80.pdf

The majority of members still make a very modest income from their practice with many still having to supplement their creative income with alternative supporting employment. Many from outside of the creative sector claim that earning less than your employed counterpart can be outweighed by the enjoyment and freedom of the self-employed creative ‘lifestyle’. Some may even say that enjoyment and passion outweighs the need to make money. However, after many years of self-employment, when regular and reliable cash flow is a very real issue, and the financial support for paid sickness leave, care- giving, holidays and retirement are restricted or unsupported, the working situation for an individual becomes an unsustainable lifestyle (“... economic inequality is top of the list... if you don’t have an alternate source of income it’s impossible to sustain an art practice”).


Many artists find it difficult to discuss these issues openly, with many feeling they are in an isolated or vulnerable position that prevents them from being outspoken (“It’s about cohesion amongst artists” - “I feel safer knowing that I have the union behind me”). Rates of pay and unpaid labour remain the biggest issues year on year, with sustainability becoming increasingly difficult.
The survey highlights that the issues facing artists such as working conditions, health, finance, lack of resources, class, gender equality and experience of discrimination reflect our wider society. In turn, members expressed real concerns over the uncertainty of Brexit and a rising anxiety over what the consequences might be.


We recognise the pressure and multiplicity of freelancing; stress, irregular income, low standards of well- being, and uncertain futures contribute greatly to the risks of developing mental ill health. While the union is not currently equipped to provide direct services to members experiencing mental health issues, the wellbeing and positive future support of our members is of paramount importance to us and at the heart of all of our activities.


The survey results, year on year, demonstrate that we continue to be a flexible and resilient workforce responding well to our changing conditions with innovation and fortitude. However, this resilience is not sustainable and should not be exploited. The survey again highlights the need for our union to respond quickly to changes, and to lobby and campaign for the rights of our members. It reinforces the relevance of an artist-led trade unionism, that understands the particular needs of the arts sector, and supports the membership, within this social and political context, through specialist support and relevant learning programmes.


Amid the changes, uncertainties and ruptures in the sector and wider society, members continue to truly value membership of the union (“Being able to just send them the link to the Union's guidelines were utterly crucial. No comment or quibbling from them then. It was great.”). We will work to equip the current and next generation of creatives and activists to be confident in managing the self-determination and personal resilience required for self-employment - whatever circumstances they may find themselves in. Now is the time to be with other workers and like-minds; sharing, learning, collaborating, and supporting each other in union and in solidarity.

“With each passing year it becomes more apparent that a union for artists is essential.”

This year’s survey received 104 responses; lower than previous years but still statistically significant. The Union will endeavour to find new and more accessible ways for the membership to take part in this important annual collection of information.

Yours in Solidarity,

Executive Committee, Scottish Artists Union

Previous Suvreys 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014

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