A new report published by researchers at the University of Sheffield has illustrated the economic impact of Covid-19 on the UK’s arts, culture and heritage sector, including that it suffered from a 60% decline in output – gross value added (GVA) – due to social distancing rules and lockdowns.

The report also found restrictions led to 55% of jobs being furloughed in the sector – the second highest in the UK behind the accommodation and food sectors – compared to the national average of 16%.

According to the report more than 80,000 claims were made under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) by people in the sector, 68% of the eligible population in the UK.

Nationally, output in the sector had a decline of around one third from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020 in real terms. The creative, arts and entertainment sub-sector along with the libraries, archives, museums and other cultural activities sub-sector were the worst hit with declines of 63% and 45% respectively.

The university said the annual data is less pronounced in terms of impact because it includes some pre-lockdown activity and varying degrees of re-opening through 2021. Sector GVA fell by around 20% (real change, constant prices), compared to around 10% for the UK’s economy overall.

The research also revealed that the sector in South Yorkshire is one of the most affected by Covid-19 across the UK with an estimated sector output loss of 22%, which was 5% more than the UK average. This is thought to be because South Yorkshire has the highest share of jobs in the hardest hit sub-sectors of arts, culture and heritage.

Findings from the study explored venues, freelance workers and audiences in South Yorkshire throughout the pandemic. 76.5% of the freelancers who completed the survey reported that their mental wellbeing was worse since the start of lockdown. Male respondents, under 30s, and respondents with a diagnosed mental health condition experienced even greater levels of distress.

Personal finances, unemployment and the ability to cover overheads were causing respondents to lose sleep. Worry over personal finances and unemployment was higher among these respondents than the general population.

South Yorkshire freelancers also rated lower levels of wellbeing and happiness and higher levels of anxiety than the general public.

Event crew, lighting and sound engineers reported greater worsening of mental health than respondents in other roles in South Yorkshire, with 53.8% saying that their mental health was “much worse” compared to 25.5% on average. They reported far worse scores across the four wellbeing factors used in the study.

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority arts, culture and heritage project director Kate Brindley said the combined authority will launch bespoke business support tools for the creative sectors, and invest an additional £1m into arts and culture over the coming months.

Brindley said, “As well as this immediate response, we recognise the need to keep pushing for additional funding from government to aid the recovery of the region’s cultural and creative sector, to ensure the people of South Yorkshire have the same opportunities afforded to them.”

The report was written by ChamberlainWalker Economics and was commissioned by a UKRI/AHRC-funded project ‘Responding to and modelling the impact of Covid-19 for Sheffield’s cultural ecology: A case study of impact and recovery’ which took place between July 2020 and October 2021.