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Parliamentary Inquiry Launched Into Class Divide in UK Arts

The inquiry into the arts sector’s ‘class ceiling’ follows renewed concern around diversity and exclusion

National Gallery, 2017. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

National Gallery, 2017. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

National Gallery, 2017. Courtesy: Getty Images/AFP; photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas

A cross-party parliamentary inquiry has been opened to investigate the lack of working class performers, writers and musicians in the UK arts sector. The inquiry, due to be led by the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group, working with Equity, the Musicians’ Union and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, will consider issues including arts education, low and unpaid employment and access to training.

Speaking at the launch of the inquiry, Equity councillor Jackie Clune said: ‘The class ceiling is not just a neat pun on a metaphor to establish gender inequality in the work place – it is real. Working-class access to creating and enjoying art is a leaky pipe that needs fixing if the cultural life of this country is not to become the sole preserve of the privileged few.’

The report, due to be published next September, follows renewed concern around the class divide in the UK arts scene. A study, titled ‘Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries’ published in April by Edinburgh College of Art, the University of Sheffield and Create, revealed the extent of the class divide in the UK’s creative sector.

Based on a survey of 2,487 arts professionals, it found that women, people from working-class backgrounds and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers all confronted significant exclusion from a sector still marked by heavy upper-middle-class, white , male overrepresentation. The study found that only 12.6% of workers in publishing sector, for instance, are of working-class origin (compared to 35% in the workforce in general).

Meanwhile new research carried out by the Sutton Trust, published last month, has found that 86% of arts internships are unpaid, and concludes that the failure to properly compensate interns excludes those from more diverse backgrounds entering the arts sector. Sutton Trust founder Sir Peter Lampl described it as a ‘huge social mobility issue that prevents young people from getting a foot on the ladder.’

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