An introduction and a few facts
This is my fifth attempt to write this article. I began on 2 October, then revised version 1, then went on to version 2, then it became version 3 (which I later revised) and on 19 November I moved on to version 4. And here, at the end of November, beginneth version 5.
“Why so many versions?” you ask. Because everything keeps changing as the government swings from one solution to the COVID problem to the next, then back again, moving from tier to lockdown and back to tier (although possibly a different one depending on where you are) (always making sure that the North gets the claggy end) (which goes without saying) and I get more and more angry.
Theatres close, then re-open, then close; performers, creatives and techies are out of work and few of the usual fall-back zero-hours jobs (bar staff, waiting on table in a restaurant and so on) are available as the whole hospitality industry, always a refuge in times of 'resting', is just as badly hit. Then they’re able to reopen. Then have to close again—in the North, at any rate.
We have a government which clearly places no value on theatre and the arts. Yes, I know, they gave £1.57bn to help theatres, concert halls, other music venues, art galleries and museums through the crisis but that is £1.23bn less than what the arts industry pays in taxation every year, based on Arts Council England figures.
According to research by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre carried out for SOLT and UK Theatre, 52% of theatre’s usual audience would be very hesitant to return to theatres until they are totally convinced there is no risk.
(I’m with them there. Theatre has been my life since the '60s, but I am one of the “clinically extremely vulnerable” so there’s no way I am putting my life at risk, even for theatre!)
In the four rounds of grants from Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund, organisations in London received a total of just over £143m (33%) and organisations in the rest of England received just over £285m (66%).
Now the population of England (the latest figure I have been able to find) is 67,886,011, and the population of London is 9,304,000, or approximately 14% of the total. Obviously these figures are changing every minute but the difference between the two remains very similar. So 14% of the population is getting 34% of the grant aid.
Yes, there are a number of different factors at play here, but let’s not forget that everyone in the UK pays taxes, between a third and a half play the Lottery every month and a half buy a Lottery scratchcard at least once a month—and Arts Council’s money, of course, comes from taxation and the National Lottery.
Other research shows that people from middle class backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to be employed in creative occupations than their working class peers. This is a situation which has not improved since records began in 2014. The wider creative industries have created over 300,000 jobs over the past five years, yet the number of creative workers from working class backgrounds has increased by just 33,000.
It’s estimated that a three-year course at a London drama school will cost (for someone who lives outside of London and so has to find accommodation), taking everything into consideration, £40,000 in total, of which almost £28,000 is tuition fees.
Could there, I wonder, be a connection between all of these facts?