With the election now less than three weeks away, there has been a flurry of manifestoes and declarations from political parties and those with their own vested interests.

With all due respect to their competitors, it seems to be generally accepted that the Labour Party will form the next government in early July, rendering other manifestoes redundant. That might be as well, since those manifestoes have contained little more than a holding page relating to cultural issues.


UK Equity, the actors’ union, has launched its own campaign headlined by Imelda Staunton, who wants “to see all parties promising much more on the arts,” and Olivia Colman railing that, “it is shocking to see how this key sector of the economy, and its workforce, has been neglected, despite its huge contribution to the UK’s standing in the world, and our public life.”

Their opinions come on the back of a major new research project commissioned by Equity. This is largely based on Freedom of Information requests submitted to every Arts Council in the UK, and shows that overall arts funding for the UK has been cut by 16% in real terms since 2017.

That might sound bad, but anyone with a reasonably long memory will know that funding for the arts in the previous decade, following on from the 2008 financial crash, was hardly generous.

In an attempt to obtain redress and as part of its Stop the Cuts and Save the Arts campaign, Equity has put forward five election demands, addressed to all parties.

  1. Increase UK arts & entertainment funding to 0.5% of GDP.
    Bring the UK into line with the European average for arts funding, and provide £1bn of new funding for the devolved nations.
  2. Scrap the ‘tax on hope’.
    End the legal exemption which allows casting directories to charge upfront fees to performing artists.
  3. Abolish the Minimum Income Floor.
    Reform Universal Credit to provide freelancers with the same protections as the employed.
  4. Require all publicly funded work to be produced on Equity agreements.
    Ensure that any arts and entertainment work which receives public subsidy—including government tax breaks—is made on union-agreed terms and conditions.
  5. Defend and extend trade union bargained royalties.
    Ratify the Beijing treaty to give unions a statutory right to bargain from—including in un-unionised areas like video games and TV commercials.

Realistically, most of those in the industry would be delighted (and astonished) if the first and most significant demand was ever fulfilled.

Labour Party

Like those of its rivals, the Labour Party manifesto devotes less space to the cultural sector than many of us would like, although coincidentally it also contains a quote from Imelda Staunton. The relevant section reads as follows.

“With Labour, the arts and music will no longer be the preserve of a privileged few. Culture is an essential part of supporting children and young people to develop creativity and find their voice. There is huge potential for growth in the creative industries that benefit every corner of the UK.

"Labour will implement our creative industries sector plan as part of our Industrial Strategy, creating good jobs and accelerating growth in film, music, gaming, and other creative sectors. We will work constructively with the BBC and our other public service broadcasters so they continue to inform, educate and entertain people, and support the creative economy by commissioning distinctively British content.

"Labour will support children to study a creative or vocational subject until they are 16, and ensure accountability measures reflect this. We will get more children active by protecting time for physical education, and supporting the role grassroots clubs play in expanding access to sport.

"Labour will improve access to cultural assets by requiring publicly funded national museums and galleries to increase the loans they make from their collections Change Labour Party Manifesto 2024 87 to communities across the country. We will also launch a new National Music Education Network—a one-stop shop with information on courses and classes for parents, teachers and children. Access to music, drama and sport has become difficult and expensive because of ticket touting. Labour will put fans back at the heart of events by introducing new consumer protections on ticket resales.”

There may not be many words, but at least the message is positive and encouraging, if the money is there to deliver, which given all of the pressures identified in the glossy 136-page manifesto seems far from likely.

Realistically, if Labour does get into power, it will have far more important priorities such as dealing with the cost-of-living crisis to address problems facing the arts in the early days. There may be some peripheral benefits around employment legislation, but increasing funding may have to wait until the later years of the next Parliament.