Carers Week 2020

Lucy Bell’s powerful piece in Exeunt lays bare the reality of being a carer working in the Performing Arts, with brilliant contributions from Gerda StephensonNgozi Ugochukwu and Stephen Unwin

Parents and Carers in Performing Arts very first piece of research in 2016/17 identified that there is a significant minority of people with caring responsibilities for elderly, sick or disabled loved ones who are much less likely to have their responsibilities recognised by their employer. 73% of carers had never been asked about their caring responsibilities. 

The emotional resilience and stamina required to maintain a career in the performing arts is well documented but far less obvious is the fluctuating personal resilience experienced by carers who often short on sleep and supporting a loved one who may be deteriorating. 

Our research identified that carers are the group who are most likely to experience very frequent interruptions to their working pattern as a direct result of their responsibilities. They are also far less confident in asking their employer to adjust their working pattern. The need for flexibility and space to accommodate the fluctuating needs of a carer is critical.

Film produced by Carers UK

The official number of carers in the 2011 Census is 6.5 million but recent estimates from Carers UK suggest this could be as high as 8.8 million and this number is only set to increase over the coming decades.  

‘Carers are not a separate group in society. Any of us might be or become a carer, many without making a conscious choice to do so or even realising that’s what we are. We don’t suddenly lose our professional skills when taking on this additional responsibility- indeed we may gain greater knowledge and insight- but the world of work too often loses sight of us. Any change to make working practices more accommodating to carers will benefit us all.’

Ming Ho, Writer for stage, screen and radio & Raising Films Board member.

65% of all adults will be carers at some point in their lives. Women have a 50:50 chance of becoming a Carer by the age of 46 and for men the age is 57. 500,000 people have given up work to care in the past two years, according to Carers UK, because they are unable to meet their caring and work commitments.  

Nowhere is this truer than in the performing arts where erratic and unpredictable hours are incompatible with the equally unpredictable needs of elderly, disabled and sick loved ones. Without working practices which empower those with caring responsibilities to meet work and family commitments, people will need making choices that ultimately hurt the sector as much as the family concerned.   

There are parent carers who enjoy untrammelled careers, like the genius Arthur Miller, who completely disowned his son with Down’s Syndrome. Are those the only kinds of carers we want authoring our arts? The more I reflect on this, the more I realise that carer artists need help from the industry, but the industry needs their help more,” says Lucy, and adds ‘‘It is shortsighted to sideline carers. Theatre needs risk-taking disabled artists, but doesn’t it also need artists with risk-taking, creative parents? Don’t we model ourselves on the people who support us?” 

Ngozi Ugochukwu, filmmaker and Board member of Manchester International Festival, who is a wheelchair-user, shares, “There are certain things your parents don’t do because you can’t do them, in my case, stairs. But if you see the people you love happy, doing what they want to do in terms of career and goals, things shift.”  

Many performing arts organisations in the UK are already taking steps to support those with caring responsibilities and prevent talent loss. PiPA has developed a range of resources that can be adapted and adopted by all organisations irrespective of scale and remit. To find out more about some of the initiatives please email matt@pipacampaign.com 

Read Lucy’s full and brilliant article here: 



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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Help and Support

PiPA has called for performing arts organisations and the government to consider the medium term needs and risks posed to parents and carers in the sector’s workforce in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. To access our dedicated resources, updates and for further guidance on where to find support...