New report delivers damning verdict on social mobility in creative sector

Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries is a new paper examining social mobility in the arts. Its results make for depressing reading. We talk to lead author, Dr Dave O’Brien, about its key issues.

The Panic! paper demonstrates significant exclusions across the cultural sector (including arts, music, publishing, advertising and IT) of women, those from working class origins, and those from BAME backgrounds. This may not come as a huge surprise to many, with diversity being a much-discussed topic across the arts in recent years.

What is more insightful is how the report analyses the dynamics of social mobility in the cultural sector, and offers insights into how the tastes, values and political views are often different from the rest of society. Cultural workers are shown to be socially exclusive, for example, tending to mainly know other creatives, to the exclusion of many other occupations. They come from disproportionately economically privileged backgrounds, and have the most liberal and left-wing politics of any occupational sector.

Perhaps most concerning, a high proportion of respondents to the original Panic! survey believe that success in their sector is based on hard work and talent
(otherwise known as ‘meritocratic’ beliefs); and the survey respondents whoare most attached to this idea are highly-paid white men, irrespective of age. If those at the top of the industry believe that the system is working, there is a risk that there may be a reluctance to change.

The creative industries have in fact been slow to respond to changes in policy and practice designed to tackle inequality and exclusion so far. For example, despite the establishment of the minimum wage, and sector-led calls to restrict unpaid work, inequalities are reinforced by the continued and historical prevalence of unpaid work and low-paid labour within the industries, resulting in many entry-level jobs excluding all but the most privileged. In the Panic! survey almost 90% of the 2,487 respondents reported working for free in some way, with just under half of respondents under 30 having done at least one unpaid internship.

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