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When we rebuild our creative industries, diversity and representation must be key

Comedian and writer Dawn French (front left) and singer Beverley Knight (front centre), join (L-R) actor Anna Jane Casey and theatre owner Nica Burns outside the Lyric Theatre, central London, to make a two minute silent stand to raise further awareness of the need to reopen theatres across the UK without social distancing as soon as possible, 17 September 2020 | PA Images

3 min read

The UK’s creative industries were already an unequal playing field before Covid-19 struck – with an uncertain future and high levels of self-employment, we must ensure that all stories can be told

We are an artistic, imaginative nation and so far as the creative industries are concerned we are ahead of the game – they are one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy but also a lynchpin of British soft power. Our creative talent is appreciated across our home nations and is celebrated across the globe.

However, while there is talent everywhere, the same cannot be said about opportunity. Although the creative industries are making efforts to become more inclusive and accessible to diverse talent there are still serious issues of representation – ethnic, economic, and people with a disability.

As the recent research paper 'Getting in and getting on: Class, participation and job quality in the UK's Creative Industries' from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre observes “those from privileged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to land a job in a creative occupation. They dominate key creative roles in the sector, shaping what goes on stage, page and screen. Moreover, class interacts with other factors – such as gender, ethnicity, disability and skill levels – to create ‘double disadvantage’”.

And these issues have been exacerbated since the start of the pandemic.

As a DCMS Select Committee report in July said, the impact of Covid on creative sectors poses “the biggest threat to the UK’s cultural infrastructure, institutions and workforce in a generation”.

Until recently, over two million people worked in the sector but at least one third were self-employed – in some parts of the industry such as the performing arts, film and music over 70% of the workforce are freelancers. Unfortunately, a large number of those excluded from the Government’s support packages are from these sectors – 3 million #ExcludedUK – and of these a disproportionate number are people from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, and the disabled.

The government’s £1.57bn culture recovery fund is greatly to be welcomed and will provide many organisations in the sector with a financial lifeline, however it is still to be seen how much it will impact on equal opportunities. In her response to my recent question on this topic, the minister said that the fund will provide “support for cultural and creative organisations, with funding decisions informed by work that delivers social benefits and encourages diversity in both the workforce and audiences”.

Both Baroness Bull and I asked for closer monitoring of this and for the government to assess and report back on the impact on inclusivity in the sector. And what is essential is that this looks at those involved in the process as well as the output, and that the people involved in the process are present at every level. Speaking as someone who comes from a television background I know that diversity is not just about on screen representation, but those behind the scenes. About researchers, technicians, producers, directors, commissioners – and director generals.

While the creative industries struggle to adapt, survive and recover in this ‘new normal’ we need to do as much as can to ensure that we do not lose the diverse talent and skills that fuel them.

Diversity is key for – and to – their success. Important for economic reasons, but also because these are the industries that tell stories, and we need stories that reflect our diverse culture and society, and post-pandemic, because they will help us recover, heal and renew.


Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury is a Liberal Democrat peer and spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Lords

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Read the most recent article written by Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury - This World Theatre Day, let’s call on the government to support the arts

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