How Coronavirus Has Hit The UK’s Creative Industries
The coronavirus package of measures marks a shift in government rhetoric form ‘’job retention’’ to ‘’job support’’ as the new plan focus on so-called viable jobs rather than protecting jobs in general.
For those who made their living in the creative industries, this is worrying news. With many sectors of the creative economy unable to resume activity due to the pandemic, many creative jobs may not be seen as viable under the rules of the new scheme.
The many talented freelancers who have been removed from all types of work and business funding after the pandemic struck in March face a much greater crisis. The Excluded UK Lobby Group reports that 3 million UK taxpayers have not been able to receive significant government funding. For others, this may be because they have a part-time job on the payroll of a corporation. For others, it is due to the small profits made by their limited companies. And there is a litany of other reasons.
Ironically, all of the omitted are the creatives who focused on the recorded material that supported the country through the lockdown, the variety programs, the songs, the National Theatre sources. While 15 per cent of the working population is freelance, that jumps to 47 per cent in creative industries.
Creative Responses To Coronavirus
Research on the effects of the pandemic on creative freelancers shows that every gig, job, or commission in their diaries was cancelled in those very first few days and weeks of lockdown earlier this year. Projects that may have been three years in the making were postponed indefinitely and there was an immediate halt of cash flow in many cases.
Many creative freelancers have portfolio careers with multiple jobs. A high proportion of these jobs such as teaching were also halted due to lockdown- many were unable to make any money. People were excluded from government support-such as being newly self-employed or having part-time work on a payroll which generated around 50% of their total income were also the reasons that these workers were particularly in need of support.
The cancellation of art festivals has further removed vital opportunities for creatives to show and develop new work, find collaborators, and make the industry connections who would commission them or fund future events and tours. While much creative work has found an audience online during this period, many are worried that by giving this content away for free, they are setting a precedent that their work lacks value and risks their practice as a whole.
Many creatives described experiencing a pressure to somehow maintain an active profile, stay relevant, and find some kind of artistic response to current events-often with little promise of any tangible reward. Many creatives have taken opportunities to develop new skills and expand their practice in new ways, but their capacity to earn any money from this or other jobs is limited.
Support Is Slow To Appear
The government has pledged support to the creative industries, this money is slow in appearing.
The creative freelancers will have to continue to rely on small one-off charitable grants, some universal credit allowances in the hope of a better future.
The creative economy makes an enormous contribution to British society. Its value to the UK economy is estimated to be £13 million per hour. Before the pandemic this industry was one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, contributing £111 billion in 2018.
Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inherent precarity of the creative labour market. Creative work is often poorly paid, insecure, and requires a great deal of investment to create and sustain a creative career. With the announcement of redundancies by the Sage Gateshead concert venue and the V&A museum, it is clear that even the biggest and most important performing arts venues in our country will struggle to survive.
The vast freelance workforce that delivers the artistic content and support for these organizations has already been depleted and will continue to suffer until the government and sector leaders will find a way to adequately support freelancers directly. There is a risk that we will retain the country’s cultural architecture but without the artist necessary to produce the plays, songs, and visual art needed to fill it. Diversity in the arts will be considerably set back as artists without the connections and finances to survive six months or more of unemployment are driven out of the industry.
Deborah Annetts, the chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, welcomed venues being allowed to open live performances but said that many could not afford to stage shows because of social distancing. She believes this will mean little work for freelancers until 2021 with many creatives forced to leave the profession.
Without a financial intervention of this kind, the government risks the loss of talent which makes the creative industries so successful in this country and generates billions for the economy each year.
So far in England, 2.2m claims were made when the first grants were available, totaling £6.4bn. other support for self-employed people includes the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, income tax deferrals, increased level of universal credit, and mortgage holidays.
The challenge is not only to bring back physical venues but to monetize online content across the arts from concerts to comedy. In this respect, The Creative Industries Federation recently produced an idea-packed report, Plan to Reimagine including how to learn from video games, music, film, and TV that already stream content via digital platforms.
It is the vital ecosystem of clubs, bars, and theatres that make urban areas and desirable place to work and visit, as well as to live. London without its workers it is like a ghost town. But London’s uniqueness also owes much to its creative and cultural venues- without them it would be a soulless place to work.
The creative sector helps promote London globally and in terms of soft power, the UK’s cultural influence ranks second only to the US.
Thus vaccine gap is not the only challenge facing the creative sector, another is the absence of workers who might decide to go out after work to work, bars, clubs, comedy venues. Returning to the office will help the arts just as its survival will help the City’s future.