The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the cultural sectors. Thousands of people’s livelihoods and work have been put on hold and, in some cases, ended. Those most affected are from the black and ethnic minority communities and from working-class backgrounds, thus reversing the incredible work of the last 20 years in increasing diversity across these sectors.
The arts and creative sector is not just “The Last Night of the Proms”, Glastonbury, the west end theatres, or the pioneering and world-leading TV and film industry, employing world-famous actors and armies of skilled production staff; it is also constituents I know making music with toddlers, puppeteers working in museum education, staff of the now silent community arts centres, dancers and photographers working with disaffected young people, pub bands, club comedians and many, many more. Our world-famous culture stands on the shoulders of people such as these.
Also, our international reputation for skills takes decades of hard work, and if they are not supported, we risk losing them almost overnight. For instance, a constituent who works in the costume department at the Royal Opera House described to me the lifelong training, learning and skills development needed for that role.
It is unfair and unjust that so many have been excluded from any Government covid support. They include people such as my constituent who is a TV director, who became self-employed only in April 2019, but thus missed the arbitrary deadline for the SEISS payments and could not get furloughed. They had to move out of their home and rely on universal credit, and they asked me, “Why am I discriminated against as a taxpaying citizen? It is not my fault that, in my line of work, it makes sense to be self-employed.” Why indeed?
In the middle of the pandemic, there was yet another blow—the loss of visa-free travel. It was a body blow for so many performers. A constituent said, “It confirms that Brexit has essentially transformed a tough enough profession into something even more difficult.” The Minister for Digital and Culture replied to me on this by saying that the situation was “regrettable”. I hope that she can do more than merely express regret.
This debate has shown the enormous role that the arts and creative sectors play in our national life and national economy, so those who work in the arts need to be at the centre of our coronavirus recovery. The Government must do far more to support them as we build back from the impact of the pandemic.