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We need better disability representation within the UK television supply chain

Michaela Coel, Deborah Williams OBE and Ed Vaizey MP (c Christopher Andreou)

Deborah Williams OBE, Chief Executive

Deborah Williams OBE, Chief Executive | Creative Diversity Network

5 min read Partner content

The effects of the pandemic have set the industry back, but the Creative Diversity Network believes that greater collaboration between industry and government can change that.

Creative Diversity Network is the cross-industry body focused on increasing diversity and inclusion across the entire UK television supply chain – from development, through commissioning, production, post production and transmission. Our members include: the BBC, Channel 4, Paramount, Sky, UKTV, Warner Brothers/Discovery, S4C, British Sign Language broadcasting trust, BAFTA, ScreenSkills and Pact (the body representing UK television producers).

We are an evidence-driven organisation. Working with our members over the last seven years to collect and publish a comprehensive picture of who makes, and appears on UK television. Data is collected through a voluntary questionnaire, to provide an accurate and consistent account of the diversity of people working on and off screen at all levels and roles – from producers to presenters and hair to makeup artists.

This system – known as Diamond – is a world first. CDN provides advice and guidance to TV and other creative industry bodies around the world who recognise its value and innovation and are looking to us as consultants as they seek to create similar systems.

Each year we publish an annual ‘state of the industry’ report. In our sixth year, we have more than three million contributions from individuals working across our broadcasters. From Happy Valley to Coronation Street, from Strictly to Succession. Each year the amount of data continues to grow. 

This data has consistently revealed that disabled people are the most under represented group working in UK television, filling 4.5% of off-screen roles vs 20% of the UK population.

This was the catalyst for the 2018 launch of ‘Doubling Disability’, the CDN-led, industry-wide campaign to double that figure to 9% in two years.

DWP Minister Sarah Newton was supportive, and we aligned our activities with the Department’s One Million People into Employment campaign. However, the impact of Covid 19 meant we had to push back our deadline by two years. Disabled people looking for work found it nearly impossible, which was particularly ironic as the new ways of remote working forced on the industry by the Pandemic should have made it easier for disabled people who would in other circumstances have faced traditional economic and societal barriers.

Throughout this time, CDN continued its focus on ensuring disabled people were still part of the diversity debates and wider industry conversations. As part of this, we commissioned academic research about disabled people's experiences to help direct the Doubling Disability campaign and then later to review progress. Unfortunately, it was not good news – the review revealed that at the current pace of change, it would be 2028 before we hit the 9% and 2041 before we hit the 20% UK population figure.

Due to the effects of the Pandemic, we extended our campaign into March 2022. Our final report revealed that we had only moved from 4.5% to 5.4% in off-screen production roles. Despite all the work and lobbying, disabled people were still being left behind.

The biggest and most consistent block to getting more disabled people into the industry is Access to Work support, which is supposed to be available to anyone – no matter which industry, the length of a contract or salary. Employment in UK television is dominated by short term contracts and freelancing, and disabled people face multiple structural barriers to working in this way. It is therefore clear that they need additional support to access work. 

As a result, CDN is firmly focused on how we can improve Access to Work across the industry and break down, and ultimately remove, those barriers.

The creative industries form one of the UK’s biggest and most important exports, contributing billions of pounds every year to the economy and a key element of the ‘made in the UK, sold to the world’ brand.

But as a result of this success, the industry is faced with a shortage of skilled workers. We need to replenish them to keep driving forward, and at the same time we need to bring in fresh talent – including an estimated 13,000 new disabled workers – to tell new stories and make the industry disability inclusive so that it continues to make global impact.

Disabled people are a key part of the solution and the most resilient and committed people in the world. They are the group least likely to leave a job, if supported appropriately into work. Disabled people have an estimated disposable income of US$30billion globally, which is not being catered for as audiences, subscribers, or content creators.

Broadcasting is made up of predominantly freelance workers on contracts. We need to ensure that the industry has a system which empowers disabled people to work in this way. 

As a global leader, CDN is determined to make Access to Work work and available to all disabled people who want to work, by using television as a test bed to pilot new ways of distributing funds.

Short term contractors should have the same support as those in full employment. People working on several contracts a year should be supported by Access to Work fluidly and without having to continually take breaks between contracts for assessment. SMEs should have the right information and dedicated advice services they need to be able to employ  disabled people regularly.

Disabled people in the nations and regions need this support especially, so that we don’t replicate the past by leaving talented people behind just because they don’t live in an area from which the industry traditionally draws its workforce. 

Since we started this work, our members have been joined by Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. Through The TV  Access Project, the UK television industry is building on the campaign started by Doubling Disability.  But we still have such a long way to go.

CDN remains a key partner and stakeholder, in the TV Access Project, a coming together of broadcasters, streamers and disabled-led organisations to remove barriers for disabled people in the industry.

More information about doubling disability campaign can be found here: www.creativediversitynetwork.com/doubling-disability and you can contact me at: deborah@creativediversitynetwork.com.

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