The government’s bailout won’t save the arts sector
I – like many theatre workers – welcomed the news of £1.57 billion for the artistic sector. But several days hence it is becoming painfully apparent that this will not help the backbone of our workforce. Of the near 400,000 workers in theatre and events, 70% are self-employed. Of those 280,000 people, a further 36% have had no government support, this announcement doesn’t change that.
I and many others are most annoyed at the double standards we are seeing applied across the UK, we are one of few industries without dates to reopen, despite the fact that next month is the last lot of government support I and many others will receive. If no other support is offered, then the government are effectively making many uniquely talented and skilled workers bankrupt and homeless. It is utterly immoral to end worker support but continue to see our industry remain shuttered. The government are right that we have a lot of differences from pubs and aeroplanes – we can be safer than both. The 3rd row of an audience at “Come From Away” are not going to descend into a drunken brawl without facemasks, nor do groups of strangers have to sit next to each other. Leaving a seat between groups of people from shared households would allow some venues to sell up to 80% of tickets.
We may well have theatres to go back to, but we will lose some our best and brightest creatives. Art is more than just the buildings that house it. It’s the people who create it that are more vital than anything else. If no further support is announced, they will be forced to look for work elsewhere. Many already are. This exodus must be arrested and the support for both venues and people has to come now, not in the Autumn as has been suggested, because by that point there is absolutely no justification in keeping theatres closed. Venues across Europe are already safely reopening, if we are not careful, we will be left behind. I happen to agree with culture minister Caroline Dinenage, that the best way to support freelancers and the support chain of our ecosystem is to let us safely work.
Yet despite all the promises, we still await more than a “roadmap” of less than 100 words. We might be able to open for outdoor performance in a few weeks, but it is too late. By the time shows have hired staff, rehearsed and made ready to open, we’re looking at late August, weeks before the real outdoor theatre season would need to end. Both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and ministers seem incapable of comprehending what it is our industry actually does and how it works. You wouldn’t have thought we would be having to fight for an industry to survive that provides more jobs and money to the country than sectors such as agriculture, and pubs. But here we are. This is the situation we find ourselves in, Britain’s last true world leading industry stands at the absolute edge of irrecoverable ruin. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden still fiddles while we all burn.
So today I call on Equity, BECTU, SOLT – all of the main voices – to create our own roadmap to reopening. We know how and when we can reopen safely, and if the government refuses to listen we must take matters into our own hands. Alternatively, we must support a worker’s tax strike for January. Being expected to pay our tax bills when the government forcing us into joblessness is frankly beyond the pale. We are being ridden over as a vital workforce for this country to recover from the virus, our unions and leaders must bring that to an end by any means necessary.
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Image credit: Maltingsberwick – Creative Commons