Many constituents have contacted concerned by the effect of the pandemic on those that work in the creative industries. In September I hosted my first Adjournment debate about the importance of the creative industries in Luton. You can watch the full video here and read my response to those that wrote in about this issue below.
I support increasing access to the arts and share your appreciation of the huge value that they bring to Luton. I also recognise that covid-19 has had a hugely damaging impact on those who work in the creative industries.
I am pleased that the government announced a support package on 7th July. However, I am concerned about how these grants and repayable loans will be allocated and hope that the support provided is also offered over an appropriately long timescale. It’s crucial that support prevents workers and venues from being pressured to reopen when it is neither safe to do so nor financially viable.
I am deeply concerned that the package may have come too late to save venues and may not be sufficiently comprehensive to protect many low-paid and insecure workers, many of whom have already lost their jobs. I am aware that organisations such as the National Theatre would, with the level of support being offered by the Government, still be ending the contracts for hundreds of staff in the coming months. If the support offered is insufficient to protect the National Theatre employees, I am worried that it may also prove to be insufficient to protect employees of other cultural institutions, including here in Luton South.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that those who are self-employed are more likely than employees to be in relative poverty, and I am concerned that the Government has not done everything possible to protect them. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme does not include those who have become self-employed since the end of the 2018-19 tax year. It excludes those who pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company, without a PAYE scheme. It also does nothing for people who have been wrongly designated as self-employed. In late May, it was announced that the scheme would be extended, and whilst this is welcome, I am concerned that the holes and problems in the original scheme have not been rectified.
The Government’s commitment to pay 70% of average monthly trading profits, with no ‘top-up’ as in the furlough scheme, will leave self-employed people in a precarious position. The seasonal nature of many of the creative industries means that missing the period from March onwards has meant losing a significantly higher proportion of income than other employees would miss. Freelance workers also have no guarantee of an immediate return to work once restrictions on working are lifted.
The creative industries are vital to Luton’s prosperity and wellbeing. In 2018, they contributed £36 million to the local economy and leveraged an additional £3.2 million in inward investment in 2019. Furthermore, research by the Cultural Learning Alliance shows that participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17%. Arts and the creative industries are a vehicle to enhance social mobility in Luton, as the research shows that students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to progress into further education and obtain a degree. The creative industries will be integral in our town and country’s recovery after the pandemic.
I am continuing to hold the government to account, making a number of interventions in Parliament, and beyond; calling for reforms to the schemes and working to attain equal rights for all workers from day one. I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden MP, to raise the concerns and suggestions of the Luton Arts & Culture Strategy Group, which I think speaks for so many creatives across out town. Please follow this link to read the letter: https://www.facebook.com/RachelHopkinsMP/photos/pcb.281450193223673/281444939890865
Beyond the covid-19 pandemic, I want to see a thriving, diverse and accessible arts scene in Luton and around the country. I was elected on a manifesto that committed to a significant increase in cultural investment in communities that have been neglected and an expansion of funding for arts education at all levels – in order to secure opportunities for all children to contribute to a thriving cultural sector. I stand by those commitments and will continue to campaign for increased funding for the arts.