Bectu calls for government intervention as new research shows UK film and TV industry in crisis

27 February 2024

A new report based on a Bectu poll of more than 4,000 UK film and TV workers lays bare the shocking work drought and wider crisis facing the sector, and shows that the industry’s freelance workforce is firmly bearing the brunt.

Following a September 2023 survey that found that 80 per cent of the workforce had been directly impacted by last year’s SAG-AFTRA industrial action in the US, Bectu has today released new research that dives into the wider picture behind the much touted ‘industry slowdown’ and shows how little has improved – more than two thirds of respondents are still out of work.

The impact on workers’ financial and mental health is stark, and the findings also show a clear existential threat to the industry and a step backwards in industry diversity. Many workers, especially women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, as well as those working in unscripted TV, plan to leave film and TV work all together.

Key findings include:

  • 68% of respondents are currently not working, only a tiny decrease from September 2023 (74%)
  • 30% have had no work at all in the past three months
  • 58% say they have not seen any recovery in their employment since the end of industrial action in the US
  • BAME respondents were less likely to have worked at all over the past three months than their white counterparts (29% of white respondents have not worked at all, while 38% of Asian/British Asian, 34% of those of mixed ethnic backgrounds and 32% of Black respondents say the same).
  • 88% are concerned about their financial security over the next six months.
  • 75% of respondents are struggling with their mental health, and the mental health impact of the crisis is hitting young workers hardest; 90% of 18-24s and 82% of 25-34s report struggling with their mental wellbeing.
  • There has been an increase in the number of people who are planning to leave the industry within the next five years – from 24% in September 2023 to 37% in February 2024.
  • Women were among those least likely to see a future in the industry – 40% of female respondents said they see themselves in another industry in five years’ time compared to 34% of men. And while 37% of white respondents see themselves leaving the industry in the next five years, half of Black respondents (50%) say they will the industry in the next five years.

Bectu is calling on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to convene an urgent industry summit to discuss the crisis. Read the letter to Lucy Frazer MP here.

The union is also calling for greater transparency on commissioning from UK broadcasters, as well as a greater focus on equality and diversity in the industry.

You can read the full report here.

Responses from Bectu’s research include:

“I have never known a more dire situation in television in twenty years. Every freelancer I know is unemployed. Every freelancer I know is extremely worried about money, growing debt and the future of production. Freelancers are already living precarious lives. Now it is untenable.”
Unscripted TV producer

“I am extremely concerned about the younger and more junior members in our department. I have noticed that their financial struggles are quite extreme. To the point some of them cannot afford lunch or rely heavily on work-provided food in order to make up for income shortfalls. It is very disconcerting… there should be more support available directly through productions, not just charities.”
Costume supervisor

“I have had to move home. I’ve felt so depressed that a few months ago I attempted taking my own life due to losing where I lived and getting no work. I blame the death of the industry through 2023. Working-class people and those without connections and the disabled are hit the worst. I used to do talks to local deprived colleges to encourage kids to go into the industry. I stopped because I can no longer recommend it. It’s structurally broken now. And I fear it will not return.”
Assistant script editor

“I used to love working in this industry, but the way it has changed since ‘streaming’ has made it unsustainable. Deadlines are becoming increasingly more unrealistic, diluting the quality of the finished product. Having to work unauthorised overtime to achieve these ever-shortening deadlines is now the norm. My mental health has taken a hammering these last few years. I had a breakdown on my last job, and on the job before that, it was a common occurrence to see crew crying in the middle of the workshop or at their benches. There is NO work/life balance.”
Senior prop modeller

Commenting on the report, Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said:

“There has been a lot of discussion about the state of the UK’s film and TV industry over the past year – about strikes in the US, a downturn in ad revenue, and reduced commissioning.

“In our survey we heard directly from those at the coalface of these significant challenges – the freelance workforce – and the picture is very bleak.

“Alongside rampant mental health challenges and debilitating financial difficulties, one of the most concerning takeaways from our research was the emphasis respondents placed on how the current crisis is amplifying existing inequalities across the industry.

“Far too many workers – particularly women and those from the global majority – told us they intend to leave the industry altogether within five years.

“The time for warm words and platitudes is over. You cannot have a thriving industry without a thriving and properly supported workforce, and we hope this report is the alarm bell the industry needs. Broadcasters and government must act now to halt the exodus of diverse and talented crew and tackle the structural challenges that leave workers feeling isolated, that damage their mental health and devastate their financial security.

“We consistently hear from the Secretary of State and other government officials about how much they value the creative industries. We now call on them to step up, put their money where their mouth is, and take decisive action to protect our much loved and revered film and TV industry, and the workers who make it all happen.”