We must ensure entertainers are valued and equal, writes CHRISTINE PAYNE
BEING working class and having a successful career in the entertainment industry is sadly not the norm.
It is a startling fact that over 90 per cent of jobs in the creative economy are held by people in more advantaged socio-economic groups.
In August the Labour Party published its Acting Up report, which confirmed there is a “class-shaped hole” in the debate about access to a career in the entertainment industry.
Historically, variety and live entertainment, encompassing everything from the early music halls through to Sunday Night at the London Palladium, have been some of the most important routes for working-class people to get a foothold in the profession.
Thousands of entertainers are at work around the country every day, performing in working men’s clubs, pubs, circuses, care homes, at weddings, in public spaces and many other venues.
These performers often face huge challenges in the course of their working lives. They are often lone workers and part of the night-time economy — as such they face similar difficulties with transport and safety as many other people working in this sector.
Something as simple as portable appliance testing (PAT) electrical equipment tests can have an illogical impact on performers — they are currently advisory but not mandatory, and yet a performer can be denied work in particular venues if no PAT test is available.
They also experience some of the most unscrupulous practices found in the entertainment industry such as “no pick-up” bookings whereby the performer receives their fee from an agent who has made a separate deal for a higher amount with a venue, with no transparency for the performer. Nonpayment of fees is also a regularly reported problem and chasing these monies is a crucial service offered to Equity’s members.
Providing insurances, legal support and other services for these workers is vital but we need to do more than that to ensure that they are valued, able to earn a living and to make sure their jobs and workplaces don’t disappear.
The mass closure of live entertainment venues is an acknowledged problem. In London alone, over 400 live music venues have closed in the last 10 years. Others have been served with noise abatement orders or have been subject to excessive local authority regulation.
We need help to campaign against the closure of live entertainment venues threatened by developers wanting to turn them into luxury flats by supporting campaigns seeking to preserve venues as “assets of community value.”
We also need to incorporate the agent of change into planning laws. This sensible principle means that those responsible for the change, whether it is the developer building a new block of flats, or someone converting a space into a live entertainment venue, is responsible for managing the impact of the change.
Like most performers, live entertainment workers are often self-employed and can experience huge problems accessing social security, help with housing and parental entitlements.
We need help to lobby the government to recognise the right of all self-employed workers to access welfare and to challenge all employers who do not pay the living wage.
We also need to expose agents who exploit workers and push for licensing and an increase in powers and resources for inspectors enforcing existing agencies legislation.
Currently performers effectively appear at many showcase events with no guarantee of paid work and are sometimes offered contracts whereby they aren’t told what venues are being charged for their performance by an agent.
More broadly, we also need to continue to campaign for working-class representation in all art forms.
There are significant barriers preventing all those from working-class backgrounds, including black and minority ethnic, LGBT+, deaf and disabled and women workers from accessing and sustaining a career in the creative professions.
Higher education fees, insecure and atypical work, low and no pay in some sectors, unconscious and conscious bias and many other factors are stopping equal access to the arts.
Every talented creative worker must have the chance to contribute to Britain’s entertainment industry and help us continue to make the best theatre, television, film, radio and live entertainment in the world.
As well as organising and campaigning to remove these barriers we must also value and protect those routes, particularly live entertainment, that have helped working-class people to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry.