Election 2024: Heritage

Prospect represents a growing membership of over 10,000 members across the UK’s heritage, culture and arts sector.

Prospect polling last year found that an overwhelming majority of voters across all age groups and political divides believed it was important to learn about the culture and heritage of the UK and the wider world through museums and other heritage attractions. 

Heritage is also a vital part of the economy – the value it adds to our economy is on a similar scale to that of agriculture, film and TV production, or the motor industry.   

Based on the economic value they create, heritage workers are among the most productive in the country, each adding on average £67,000 a year to our prosperity. 

These impacts are particularly important to areas of high deprivation and regions that politicians say they want to invest in. 

The problem

  • Most heritage workers are paid below the national median salary of £33,280, and many are on very low pay. Entry level salaries are not competitive, despite a high proportion of heritage workers having graduate or post-graduate qualifications.  
  • Prospect analysis suggests that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 workers at museums, heritage sites and botanical gardens earn less than – or barely above – the independently calculated Living Wage.  
  • A lack of pay progression, combined with real terms pay cuts, has seen the sector lose skilled and experienced experts. For example, professional archivists and curators saw their salaries fall by 26% in real terms between 2011 and 2022.  
  • Budgets have been hit by grant cuts and pandemic closures, resulting in headcount reductions and increased workload for remaining staff. There is an increasing reliance on volunteers in the sector.   
  • The sector’s ability to rebuild visitor numbers and self-generated income after the pandemic has been hampered by ongoing economic stagnation and a cost-of-living crisis that has left potential visitors with less disposable income to spend on exhibitions, voluntary donations and in on-site shops and cafes.  
  • Uncertainty over future funding trajectories, typically confirmed only a year in advance, and a lack of flexibility around carrying over underspends or overspends, is making it hard for organisations to plan investments or develop capacity where this entails financial commitments over the longer term.  
The annual economic value of a Heritage worker £67,000
Salary loss between 2011 and 2022 26%
Number of workers who earn less than the Living Wage 1 in 5

What we want to see happen

Experts and specialists in the heritage sector who enrich our lives and add so much value to the economy need to be properly recognised.  

We want the next government to commit to: 

1. Undertaking a review of the financial pressures in the heritage sector

This should examine: 

  • The impact of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis on heritage organisations and the challenges many still face in rebuilding capacity, profile, attendance, income and long-term financial health.
  • Staffing and skills pressures in the sector.
  • The barriers to effective utilisation of freedoms enjoyed by some organisations to set pay outside the Civil Service Pay Remit Guidance to address recruitment, retention and turnover problems, and the case for better pay transparency and pay progression in public funded heritage bodies to support retention and career development.
  • The case for giving heritage organisations more medium and long-term certainty over public funding streams to enable better planning, innovation and capacity development.
  • The case for giving heritage organisations greater flexibility and autonomy over allocations of funding between years, and between capital and current budgets.
  • The extent to which funding for heritage organisations and projects can complement or enable savings in other areas of spending such as education, community regeneration, and health and social care, and consideration of closer working and budget-pooling across departmental and organisational boundaries.

2. Restoring realterms current funding to pre-austerity levels

Funding cuts continue to harm the heritage sector, with the knock-on effects being felt across society. 

Equality, diversity, and inclusion 

Low pay, and often the expectation of working for free at the start of your career, means that a career in heritage is not currently accessible to people from every background. Working in heritage shouldn’t only be an option for people without family responsibilities or those with other forms of financial security. 

*Note: This page reflects current Prospect thinking. Prospect National Conference takes place in early June. Relevant new policy agreed at Conference will be reflected here shortly afterwards.

Further reading