Cost of Living Crisis: How are rising costs affecting women in the arts?

The graphic shows a light green background with dark green left-aligned text quote that reads "The impacts of the cost of living have rippled throughout the arts sector in Scotland. Many organisations have warned that they are under direct threat as a result. However, these conversations often miss a gendered element. Women in the arts in Scotland have long had to contend with gender inequality and sexism.  ". The quote is attributed to Rosie Aspinall Priest. In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a bright green circle.

As part of our blog series on the cost of living crisis, artist, writer and researcher Rosie Aspinall Priest explores the impact of the cost of living crisis on women in the arts in Scotland, and the need for more reliable, well-paid and flexible opportunities for those working in the arts.

Of the world’s ‘advanced economies’, the UK is amongst the most impacted by the cost of living crisis. The crisis has negatively impacted women disproportionately compared to their male counterparts. From rising rent prices to stagnating wages and increasing unemployment, more and more women are struggling to make ends meet. This burden is far from evenly distributed. Research from the Women’s Budget Group found that women were more likely to be living in overcrowded, poorly insulated, and poorly maintained homes than men. People from the global majority are almost twice as likely to be facing redundancy than white workers. It’s no wonder that 31 per cent of women highlighted the cost of living as a major source of financial stress, according to research from the Reward and Employee Benefits Association.

The impacts of the cost of living have rippled throughout the arts sector in Scotland. Many organisations have warned that they are under direct threat as a result. However, these conversations often miss a gendered element. Women in the arts in Scotland have long had to contend with gender inequality and sexism. In a recent survey, 44 per cent of women working in the arts in Scotland reported their gender being a barrier to work. The survey highlights, “men are also more likely to have worked in the creative sector for longer, to be working full-time rather than part-time and importantly, less likely to be the primary or sole carer of children”. Almost three times the number of women to men cited care responsibilities as a major barrier to their work in the arts. An article in The Stage highlights how societal expectations of women to be carers are often an obstacle for women in theatre.

In 2021, The National Advisory Council on Women and Girls highlighted that women in Scotland's creative industries were less likely to have managerial roles, with two-thirds of managerial positions held by men. On the flip side, two-thirds of administrative and secretarial positions were held by women. Despite the lack of women at the top, women made up almost 65 per cent of arts students, with a staggering 70 per cent of theatre students being women. There is no shortage of talented and brilliant women who could be leading the arts sector through the cost of living crisis.

The poor treatment of women in the arts in Scotland has needed to be uprooted for a long time. Just as it is not true that we were all in the same boat during the pandemic, neither are we all in the same boat during the cost of living crisis. Women, and those of marginalised genders, working in the arts have felt the squeeze the most. For example, the long-held expectation that arts workers will work long, often unpaid, hours impacts those with care responsibilities (most often women) drastically.

I have written extensively about the impacts of low-paid jobs and the need to radically change the arts approach to casual workers, especially those on zero hours contracts, which are endemic in the arts. Whilst zero hours contracts offer employers flexibility and the ability to curb spending on staff (which some organisations will consider key during the cost of living crisis), this disproportionately impacts women and, in particular, women from the global majority. Around 60 per cent of employees on zero hours contracts are women. Yet when the cost of living crisis and the arts is reported in the media, there is a distinct focus on arts leaders’ experiences and insights, instead of those experiencing the most damaging impacts of the crisis. In a recent Stage article, for example, six arts leaders were interviewed about the cost of living crisis, only two were women, and none discussed the impacts the crisis was having on their lowest paid employees.

Whilst arts organisations in Scotland are encouraged by Creative Scotland to be Living Wage employers, there are two loopholes. Firstly, there is no guideline on the number of hours guaranteed to staff. The Living Hours Scotland website advises that genuine living wage employers need to offer contracts of a minimum of 16 hours a week. Secondly, employers did not need to increase to an actual living wage until March 2023, despite it having been stated in April 2022 that the real living wage amount is £10.90/hr. Employers, including arts organisations, have therefore still been paying their lowest paid staff over 10 per cent less than the Real Living Wage, during the most economically unstable winter workers have experienced in a long time.

Soberingly, the Real Living Wage Foundation is not the only organisation with guidelines on pay; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states the minimum amount an individual needs to earn to survive in the current crisis is £25,500 a year, almost £6000 a year more than the Real Living Wage equivalent. So even if employers raise their wages to £10.90/hr, this is insufficient to survive the cost of living crisis.

Within the arts in Scotland, the women who work on temporary, part-time, insecure contracts, or on zero hours contracts, have been propping up the sector for far too long, with little to no support from the industries they work for. Arts organisations dealing with financial hardships have decided to lay off staff. These job losses first hit those on low incomes and part-time contracts - predominantly positions held by women. Around 60 per cent of the sector’s part-time workforce are women.

Women need reliable, continuous, and well-paid work with the flexibility for care responsibilities which will also result in safer working conditions. In a shocking survey of freelancers, one in five women workers said they did not feel safe in their current work. There is a direct correlation between poor working conditions and experience of sexual harassment in the workplace, which has long gone unchecked within the arts. The temporary nature of many arts workers’ contracts makes abuse and harassment much easier for assailants. By creating an arts sector full of well-cared for and considered positions, women become more financially, and physically, secure. It is urgent that arts organisations take the time to consider how their employment practices may be compounding the cost of living crisis, whilst unwittingly creating unsafe working conditions for women. If these are not dealt with meaningfully, we will see a further decrease of women working in the arts, and a lack of women’s voices, experiences, and expertise within the sector.


We know that there are many different aspects to the cost of living crisis, and we’re keen to highlight all of the different ways that it is impacting women in Scotland. We're hosting blogs on a range of issues related to the cost of living and we want to hear from you – if you're interested, please drop us an email at letting us know what aspect of the cost of living and its impact on women you’d like to write about.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.

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