Sector News

New research reveals scale of crisis affecting creative freelancers

Number of creative freelancers in work fell by 38,000 in 2020, research from the Centre for Cultural Value.

Posted: 10/03/2022

There are 38,000 fewer freelancers working in creative occupations since the start of 2020, new findings from the Centre for Cultural Value Covid-19 research reveals. Freelancers are especially important to the creative economy as they represent a high proportion of the workforce.

There were similar downward trends in the number of hours worked
by freelancers in creative occupations. By the middle of 2020 there was
a steep rise in the number reporting working zero hours per week and an
associated decline in those reporting working over 32 hours.

Looking at specific groups of occupations, freelancers working in
music, performing, and the visual arts are at the epicentre of the
crisis with a trend of decline continuing throughout 2020.

Significantly, the research reveals that particular demographic groups of freelancers, notably younger people and women, appear to have been disproportionately affected by the crisis.

Key demographic findings from the research:


  • Freelance workers aged 25-29 in creative occupations have declined
    from around 30,000 to around 20,000 during 2020. Those aged 40-49 also
    saw a steep decline, from around 50,000 workers to around 38,000.
  • For the over 50s, the impact of lockdown, re-opening, and then lockdown 2, was less marked.

Ethnic diversity

  • The data suggest that numbers of ethnically diverse freelancers have
    remained stable over the course of 2020. The small sample size, which
    relates to the small number of freelancers from ethnically diverse
    backgrounds in creative occupations, means it is difficult to drill down
    into more detail on why this is.


There are clear differences within different sectors of the creative economy:

  • For publishing occupations, there was a decline of female freelancers of around 14% and a rise for men of 15% across the year.
  • This gender difference was not observed in music, performing, and visual arts with round 38% declines for women and men alike.
  • ONS data on the film industry (including non-creative occupations)
    suggests a 51% fall in the number of female freelancers by the end of
    2020 compared with a 5% decline for men.

Read the full research report here.

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