It’s Time The Government Gave Our Creators The Respect They Deserve
"Everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality." Those were the words employed by Rishi Sunak in a recent ITV News interview, referring to the UK's many artists and musicians who have found their careers diminished by the pandemic. While his sanguine tone is deceptive, he is effectively telling them to suck it up and find a new job. In suggesting this he is dismissing the huge importance of creative industries in our culture.
Particularly throughout this tumultuous year, it is safe to say we all rely on art and creative media as a much-needed source of escapism from life's challenging circumstances. Ofcom studies show we spend an average of six hours per day devouring TV and film, and a further two hours streaming music according to Spotify. None of our favourite forms of entertainment would exist without creators - so why are the government urging them to retrain?
Following the interview, a highly controversial government advertisement began to circulate on social media. We've all seen it; the ballerina lacing up her shoes, accompanied by a degrading insinuation that she will give up her probable years of dance training, and "rethink, reskill, reboot" into a career in cyber. It's clear she is not just a ballerina, but a symbol for every creative worker being told their career is meaningless. As would be expected, the ad provoked serious public outrage. It quickly began to trend - for all the wrong reasons. Instagram user Sean Coleman identified the irony behind the poster, annotating it with the artists required in order to produce it: a photographer, stylist, and graphic designer, to name a few.
Granted, it is arguable that the poster was taken out of context. Some have defended against criticisms by pointing out that it was originally published in 2019, and simply resurfaced in light of Sunak's comments. However, this seemingly only verifies the Tory government's more deep-rooted negligence of creative workers, proving it precedes the impacts of COVID-19. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden was quick to renounce the infamous ad; he clarified in a tweet that it was not created by his Department for DCMS, and described it as "crass". The evidently ashamed MP went on to specify the poster as part of a campaign including workers "from all walks of life", not just those in creative industries. While he is correct that it comes from a series of posters encouraging various workers to retrain, the other occupations appear to be non-specialist roles such as retail workers, with Fatima the ballerina standing out as the only professional requiring substantial long-term training. The takeaway is that, in the eyes of the government, extensive creative careers hold only as much value as baseline minimum-wage jobs. And for that matter, shouldn't all of the workers featured in the ads be held in higher regard? After all, who is going to serve Rishi his morning latte on his way to the House of Commons, if our baristas retrain as cyber security officers?