Our resident columnist Sam Renke this month highlights the disability pay gap…

We’ve all heard of the expression ‘speculate to accumulate’ and for those working in the creative industry it’s an all too familiar story. All of my actor, musician and photographer friends have worked for free in some questionable bar or have taken on a role for a student film project without being paid. It’s the best way to build your portfolio, expand your brand and gain experience. Ultimately it’s expected at the beginning of your career and not necessarily seen as a form of exploitation.

I am no exception. I have given my skills for ‘free’ more times than I’ve had hot dinners over the years.

“Are you getting paid?” my mother would ask and I would always roll my eyes at her and defend my answer of “no I’m not getting paid”, by finishing my sentence with “but it’s great exposure!”

There does however come a time when your career really takes off and you become more aware of your self-worth. You come to realise that in fact people respect you more when you put a price tag on your head.

After six years of hard graft, I believe my days of doing everything for free are pretty much over, obviously there are many charities I am an ambassador for and all my work there is voluntary but for anything else my fantastic agent negotiates a fee on my behalf. However, more often than not I am confronted with almost shock or disbelief by my ‘demand’ for money.

It seems to be a common theme that because I have a disability I don’t need to be paid, or that my skills, time and energy just aren’t worth paying for. Do people simply assume that I already get my bills paid for by the government or that I don’t have a desire to go shopping or go on holiday or even that I most likely live at home with my parents so don’t need money? 

Attitudes tend to be that those asking for my services are in fact doing me a favour, getting me out of the house to speak at an event or to do an interview or write a blog. At times it almost feels like I should be grateful for simply being asked. 

Most recently I was at an event where the organisers asked my agent if I would prefer my fee for speaking to go towards a charity rather than in my own pocket. Does being a disability campaigner mean I want to give all my earnings to charity? Hmmmm…

There has been a lot of talk and media coverage surrounding the gender pay gap however we never hear anything about the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people which exists in a very real way. 

The irony being that on average someone with a disability has an extra monthly cost of £570 (according to research conducted by the charity Scope), yet unemployment within the ‘D-Community’ is appalling with only 25% of disabled people in employment. But it appears once you enter the world of work you aren’t on an equal playing field to your non-disabled colleagues.

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