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Creative and Cultural Sector: Social Mobility

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of social mobility in the creative and cultural sector, and what steps they are taking to improve it.

My Lords, culture and creativity are for everyone and are enriched when everyone is able to play their full part in them. As part of our work to promote social mobility in the creative and cultural sectors, we commissioned research from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre to inform our approach. We have launched the new Discover Creative Careers programme to improve access to creative careers and will set out our approach further in the forthcoming cultural education plan and creative industries sector vision.

I thank the Minister for his reply. A recent report looking into social mobility in the creative sector since the 1970s found that there has been shockingly little progress. Last week, in her first speech in the role, the DCMS Secretary of State said about the creative industries that

“we need to work together to give people the right skills and awareness from a young age”.

Does the Minister agree? Does he agree with Minister Julia Lopez that the problem is a disconnect between education provision and the jobs being created? We need no more labelling of creative courses as “low value” and more emphasis and support for creative subjects and career information. Will the Minister get his own Government, and most importantly the Department for Education, to listen to fellow Ministers and act on this as a key part of encouraging social mobility in this sector?

The noble Baroness is right to point to recent research, which shows that this is a long-standing problem afflicting more than just our nation. That is why DCMS commissioned the report I mentioned from the policy and evidence centre in 2021. It pointed to a number of levers, particularly ensuring fair and equal access to cultural activities in early life and using education as a leveller. We are taking those forward through our work on the cultural education plan with the Department for Education. I am seeing the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, about it tomorrow, and am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has agreed to chair the panel informing it. We are also supporting the take-up and provision of a broad range of post-16 vocational routes, such as T-levels and boot camps, and support the free schools led by industry, such as the BRIT School and the London Screen Academy, which are doing excellent work in this area.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a freelance television producer. One of the biggest problems facing freelancers, who make up a third of the creative industries, is late payment. The Communications Committee, in its inquiry into the future of journalism, called for the Small Business Commissioner to be given powers to sort out unfair payment practices for freelancers. Unfortunately, at the moment she cannot deal with complaints to companies that employ fewer than 50 people, which includes the vast majority of creative industry companies. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government intend to extend her powers in this area?

I shall take that issue up with colleagues at the Department for Business and Trade, but the noble Viscount is right to point to the large number of freelancers and small and medium-sized enterprises that make up our creative industries and cultural sector, and to the need to ensure that they are paid in a timely way for the important work they do.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if we were to look at who is performing on our stage and screen at the moment, we might think there was not a problem? There is an enormous and very encouraging degree of diversity across the whole range of performing arts, but there is no such equal diversity in the necessary supporting skills and trades. Does he further agree that this is partly because schools themselves—he touched on this in his earlier reply—are insufficiently encouraged to understand the range of options open to people with all kinds of skills to work in the creative industries, including technical, digital and craft skills?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right: many exciting job opportunities are open to people in the creative industries and the cultural sector, backstage and off-screen. Because film and television were supported to open up more quickly than live performing arts, a lot of people have switched between those parts of the sector. I mentioned the Discover Creative Careers programme, which Julia Lopez launched last month. That will provide £1 million over three years to give young people in 77 targeted areas across England better career provision, letting them know about the exciting job opportunities on offer so that we can fill those skills gaps and get people into the sector.

My Lords, my noble friend’s department gives many grants to the sector. Can he outline what conditions are put on those grants, particularly for work experience and internships, so that those who maybe do not live in London or near a major city, or who do not have parents who can support them, can access work experience and internships?

As my noble friend knows, we have ensured that the Arts Council, which distributes a lot of taxpayer subsidy to arts and culture, does so more fairly across the whole country, bringing opportunities and high-quality cultural provision close to people’s doorsteps. Since 2018, the Arts Council has asked national portfolio organisations, as it calls them, to provide data on the socioeconomic background of their permanent staff. We have asked them to take the socioeconomic background of the people involved into account so that we can make sure that everybody is able to enjoy the opportunities that that affords.

My Lords, returning to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, there is a crisis here. According to ONS data from researchers at the universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Sheffield, the number of creative workers from working-class backgrounds has halved since the 1970s—my generation, if you like—and the chances of children from middle-class backgrounds getting a job in the cultural sector are four times greater than for those from working-class backgrounds. Does the Minister share my concern that this affects not only who portrays the characters but the stories and narratives seen by the wider public? What work is the department doing with the Social Mobility Commission in this area, and what additional resources can it give the commission to help it change the class basis of our arts?

The noble Lord is right: culture and creativity are enriched when as broad a range of people as possible are part of telling stories and sharing perspectives. That is why we commissioned the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre to do the report that I mentioned. We have also commissioned an external evidence review to identify interventions that can help. I have mentioned the work we are taking forward through the cultural education plan and the creative industries sector vision, so there is work for us to do. The point he makes about the Social Mobility Commission is a good one, and I will follow it up with colleagues.

My Lords, opportunities begin with education but as headteachers and educationalists point out, the reality is that arts subjects are now woefully underfunded, certainly compared to private schools, as well as being actively discouraged by the EBacc. What plans do the Government have to address this? Otherwise, the arts and creative industries will become accessible only to the privileged few—and yes, this is something that DCMS and the DfE need to bang their heads together about.

Absolutely, and I am very happy to bang those heads. One of the key aims of the cultural education plan is to tackle disparities in opportunity and outcome, and to identify schools across the state and private sectors that are doing good work, while ensuring that everybody, wherever they live, has the life-changing opportunity to take part in arts and culture.

My Lords, while the Minister is banging heads and meeting his right honourable friend the Schools Minister tomorrow, will he please raise the issue of musical education in schools? It is harder now for schoolchildren in inner-city schools and state schools to access musical instruments than it was 50 years ago when I was at a grammar school on a council estate in Hertfordshire. That really is a scandal.

I will, but my right honourable friend the Schools Minister and I would both point to the £25 million of capital investment that accompanied the national plan for music education, informed by my noble friend Lady Fleet and others, and that ensured greater provision of musical instruments, particularly adaptable instruments for pupils with special educational needs. We wanted to make sure that every barrier to participation in arts, music and culture was removed.

My Lords, it must warm the Minister’s heart to hear his Secretary of State say that we should use the creative industries to drive growth in every corner of the UK. However, we have seen a 30% decline in the last 10 years in revenue funding coming from local authorities. How can we make up this shortfall? Furthermore, does he not think that the dreadful EBacc is stifling advancement in the creative industries?

I am indeed keen to see growth in every part of the country. The creative industries have been growing more than twice as quickly as the rest of the economy in terms of GVA, and since 2011 employment in the sector has increased more than five times faster than the rest of the economy. There are therefore huge opportunities for people in every part of the country, and we want to see more of these jobs, which are enriching in every sense. The noble Lord is right to point to the important role played by local government. We work closely with the Local Government Association, which recently produced an excellent report on cultural provision, highlighting the important role it plays. Of course, the Government, through things like the levelling up fund, the towns fund and the UK shared prosperity fund, are ensuring that investment is there to encourage it.