Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

How can we stop Britain’s creative sector getting even posher?

Ideas from Europe can increase participation in the arts for those from lower-income backgrounds

Image: The New European

It’s official. The creative industries are getting posher. 

Channel 4 News revealed this week that less than 10% of film and TV workers are from working class backgrounds, the lowest figure in a decade.

And according to the Social Mobility Commission, over half of those employed in the creative sector as a whole come from a high socio-economic background. Law, academia and even finance rank better for social diversity.

In fact, the creative industries would need to employ over 250,000 more working class people just to be as diverse as the rest of the economy. 

Alongside this, the impact of Brexit on the arts has compounded difficulties. In 2023 the UK Trade and Business Commission calculated that Britain had lost out on £163m of EU creative funding, a sobering figure in the wake of recent 100% arts budget cuts in places like Birmingham and Suffolk. 

But while access to funding and travel opportunities have undoubtedly been blighted by Brexit, there are still ways in which the government and industry can learn from Europe when it comes to increasing participation in the arts, particularly for those from lower-income backgrounds. 

In 2021 Germany reclassified nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, allowing them tax breaks and special protections in order to thrive. 

This feels like a stark contrast to the UK, where despite a huge contribution to our economy, the nightlife industry battles deep rooted hostility from government, police and local authorities to survive.

This is a class issue. For decades, dancefloors from Wigan to West London have been crucibles for creativity, offering everyday people the chance to participate in transcendent moments of artistic bliss.

From UK Garage to Northern Soul, subcultures born in clubs have been exported globally, contributing heavily to Britain’s position as a global cultural powerhouse, leading to new industries, economic growth and tech innovation. 

Along with football terraces, nightclubs are, and always were, DIY catwalks for the underrepresented, whose styles would change the course of global fashion. This cannot be taken for granted, and special status to protect them from the threats of gentrification and rising costs is essential if we’re to keep that talent pipeline alive. 

Earlier this year the EU vowed to crack down on what they call “bogus”’ internships that exploit young people. Some say this doesn’t go far enough and are calling for a complete ban on unpaid work, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Despite widespread criticism, unpaid internships still remain a first step on the ladder towards a creative career in the UK, with some industries, like fashion, essentially propped up by a network of young unpaid workers. 

This begs the obvious question of how anybody is supposed to support themselves in a city like London, which accounts for over 40% of creative industries employment and rents are astronomical, working for free. Those from outside the capital whose parents can’t afford to subsidise their rent are simply left out. 

With the government on the attack against so-called “rip-off” degrees – which seems to be aimed at creative subjects that don’t immediately lead to gainful employment – university risks becoming even less accessible to future generations of working class creative talent. 

Internships can potentially fill that gap, offering essential experience and contacts without a degree, but it’s vital that they’re executed properly in a constructive, non-exploitative way. The European Youth Forum put together a useful checklist, which highlights things like mentorship and social protection. 

While entry to a handful of the UK’s flagship galleries and museums remains free, the cost of events like concerts and exhibitions remains prohibitively expensive for many young working class people. The average gig ticket rose from £50 before Covid to £65 in 2023, with up to 25% added in extra charges by ticketing sites, according to a recent Which? report. 

Over the last decade, many EU countries have offered state-funded vouchers for young people to spend on cultural activities, alleviating the financial barrier to entry for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s a simple idea that can have a lasting impact. 

Italy provides a €500 voucher to 18-year-olds from lower-income families, which can be spent on anything from gigs to museum memberships. Interestingly, most countries stipulate that goods purchased, like books or records, must be collected in-store rather than being delivered at home, recognising the importance of physical spaces in nurturing creative communities. 

Art is no longer on the curriculum for many state school pupils in Britain. This is the grim reality of government cuts that have left the necessary teachers and materials in scarce supply, and Rishi Sunak’s obsession with compulsory maths won’t make reversing the decline any easier. 

One EU country offers some inspiration however. The world-famous Finnish education system encourages the teaching of traditional academic subjects in a way that promotes creativity. As an example, in one Helsinki comprehensive school children are taught how to design a house in maths class.

The Finnish approach to education, focusing on collaborative problem solving over memorising and testing, can ignite the minds of young people who may consider themselves less academic, but in reality possess creative thinking skills vitally important to the economy. 

Removing these ideological barriers that deem ‘creative’ subjects to be separate from, and of less importance, than academic ones would be a sustainable way to ensure future generations of state schooled pupils see a career in the creative industries as a viable option. 

Tom Armstrong is co-founder of Common People. He writes on Substack here

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.