Equity Research Finds that UK Arts Councils Cut Funding 16% in Real Terms Since 2017

Learn more about Equity’s General Election 2024 demands to all parties.

By: Jun. 12, 2024
Equity Research Finds that UK Arts Councils Cut Funding 16% in Real Terms Since 2017
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New research commissioned by Equity, the performing arts and entertainment trade union, and carried out by the Autonomy Institute shows that overall arts funding for the UK from national bodies (Arts Councils England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Scotland) has been cut 16% in real terms since 2017.

Funding in England dropped by 11%, in Wales 30%, and in Northern Ireland 16%. It increased in Scotland by 2%. It is possible to see how arts funding has changed for each constituency using the Arts Funding Tracker on the Equity website. For instance, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s constituency Richmond and Northallerton has seen a 10% cut to average annual real terms funding since 2014 (with data for constituencies going further back than 2017), while Birkenhead has been cut 92% and Halifax 50%.

The figures underline the need to defend and extend funding for the arts, with Equity calling on members (who work in the performing arts and entertainment industry) to contact their local Parliamentary candidates seeking commitments for this alongside four other demands (detailed below) in the run up to the General Election, as part of the union’s Stop the Cuts and Save the Arts campaign.

Paul W Fleming, Equity General Secretary, says: “Equity’s members have faced central government austerity in the arts and entertainment industries for 20 years under governments of every shade. Our five election demands – addressed to candidates of all mainstream parties – put reversing the erosion of funding at the top of the list. The other four of our demands focus on the rights of our precarious, freelance membership. We need a government which supports our members, and all working people, to get their fair share of the profits they create. There are no creative industries without its workforce, it’s time they were empowered and valued as much by Westminster as they are by audiences across the globe.”

Equity member and actress Imelda Staunton says: “We’re living in a golden age of drama, especially on streaming platforms, thanks to the exceptional ability of the UK arts workforce to bring world class storytelling to global audiences. But too many places in the UK have been left without arts funding, depriving audiences and performers alike. With proper funding, there is no limit to the potential for the arts to inspire and entertain, encouraging both human creativity and economic benefits. I want to see all parties promising much more on the arts. They are not just a ‘nice to have’, they are essential to the thriving, confident country we all want to live in.”

Equity member and actress Olivia Colman says: “Billions of people the world over want to watch stories created by UK artists on their screens and stages. Yet Equity’s research shows how government funding for the arts has been falling for decades. It is shocking to see how this key sector of the economy, and its workforce,  has been neglected, despite its huge contribution to the UK’s standing in the world, and our public life. A lack of government funding increasingly means that only the wealthy can afford a ticket to the show, or to build a career working in the industry. Only some people are able to share in the stories being told. Equity’s analysis demonstrates that whoever wins the coming election must urgently bring forward plans to invest in the arts and entertainment here. This is just common sense.”

Equity’s General Election 2024 Demands To All Parties 

  1. Increase UK arts & entertainment funding to 0.5% of GDP.

Bring the UK into line with the European average for arts funding, and provide £1bn of new funding for the devolved nations.

  1. Scrap the ‘tax on hope’.

End the legal exemption which allows casting directories to charge upfront fees to performing artists.

  1. Abolish the Minimum Income Floor.

Reform Universal Credit to provide freelancers with the same protections as the employed.

  1. Require all publicly funded work to be produced on Equity agreements.

Ensure that any arts and entertainment work which receives public subsidy – including government tax breaks – is made on union-agreed terms and conditions.

      5.  Defend and extend trade union bargained royalties.

Ratify the Beijing treaty to give unions a statutory right to bargain from – including in un-unionised areas like video-games and TV commercials.

Research Methodology

The data was retrieved through Freedom of Information requests submitted to every arts council in the UK. Parliamentary constituencies were updated to match the current constituencies and adjusted for inflation. Autonomy computed the figures via linear regression, to adjust for spikes in funding and allow them to map trends at a constituency level over time. You can find out more about the methodology here.


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