5 Positive Steps to Inclusion in the Creative Industries

In 2017 BCre8ive published ‘The Creative Pipeline’ a proposal to use digital technology to massively expand the capacity of,  and support for, creative freelancers and micro-companies, who make up over 94% of the creative industries in the UK.  Since then we have seen the Creative Industries Sector Deal, Brexit, and Covid-19 impact on freelancers and micro-companies. So what does the future hold for creative content creators?

This is the first of a series of blogs looking at the ways in which support and development for the creative content creators in the UK can be provided to increase their potential and value. The aim of these blogs is to create a solid framework for action going forward into 2021 and beyond.  They are based upon the five aspects of the pipeline between creators and their audiences/market identified in ‘The Creative Pipeline’.


Access to the creative industries, and movement within it, has been brought into sharp relief over the recent years from #MeToo  and Black Lives Matter to the Bazalgette Review for the UK Government.  This has seen new codes of practice, policy inititaitives and numerous new diversity operations.  However, policies and intentions will not be enough to shift the balance of power and improve inclusion on their own.  Underlying problems obviously remain and will undoubtedly continue into the future.  Some of the practical steps needed to be taken by companies have been outlined in previous BCre8ive blogs.

The bigger questions about access and inclusion which can only be tackled by government and a sustained effort by the major players within the creative industries include social class, metro-centrism, diversity, and a lack of skills/qualifications, and lack of digital support for freelancers and micro-companies.

The Class Barrier

Access to arts education has declined in UK schools over the last decade.  This has been noted by many commentators and arguments published against it.  Education is the stepping stone to many creative careers, which are often the major benefits for some children after school. A situation which is made more challenging with  14.7% of working age adults having no qualifications. In this context, with over 20% of the UK adult population having level 1 or below literacy skills, a lack of a good education remains the biggest barrier to  accessing a creative career.  Without basic literacy the vast majority of cultural and creative jobs are not open to these individuals. In addition, with the dominance of digital based work in the future, the fact that approx 12m adults lack basic digital skills is another significant barrier to entry.

It is also worth noting that the vast majority of those in poverty are classed as working class, and thus improving access to arts education and arts careers would substantially affect levels of poverty in the UK.

A report on the impact of class on the arts was published in 2018 by Create London , which revealed three distinct areas of concern within the creative and cultural sectors.  The first of these was a dominant belief in meritocracy amongst those in the most senior positions within creative organisations.   This is the idea that hard work and talent will inevitably be rewarded and is part of a culture of resistance to change involving such phrases as ‘Talent will always win out‘.  It ignores not only the persistent impact of art colleges, film schools, and music academies on people’s careers but also the nepotistic nature of creative networks in the UK.

Beyond the question of this culture dominating key decision makers thinking there are other substantial barriers to people from working class backgrounds making it within the creative industries.

The second area identified was Internships and free working, which have become a standard part of entering much of the creative industries.  For working class individuals who do not have the financial support available to those from upper-class and middle-class backgrounds this option is limited, if not impossible to take up. Furthermore, it is compounded by the informal networks by which many, if not most, of these internships are set up.  As the majority of posts are never advertised, new entrants who are not already part of an established network are automatically denied access.

Government supported paid Apprenticeships were seen to be the alternative to internships. However, searches in 2020 reveal that no apprenticeships in creative and design were available in London, let alone the rest of the country. The impact of Covid-19 is likely to see many  redundant people seeking the few vacancies initially available, and numerous students desperate to break into the sector, eager to take unpaid positions.  So without significant commitment from companies and a change of government policy ‘nepotism’ is likely to remain a major factor in recruitment.

The third area identified was the unrepresentative nature of the ‘culture class’. Given the history of recruitment and access it is inevitable that the current composition of the creative industries is unrepresentative of the country as a whole. The impact of this is to not only provide a limited view of life in the UK, but also limits access still further as existing practitioners from lighting technicians to gallery owners tend to recruit people they know, and/or are like them.


Issues associated with BAME ,  and other minority groups representation within the industry have been discussed and written about on several occasions. In addition, several campaigns have been launched around gender-related issues. Indeed, as long ago as 2015 The Creative Industries Federation published a detailed look at diversity with a substantial series of action points that are yet to be carried forward in policy and practice.

New digital sites promoting diversity and paid internships are helping but also illustrate how much more needs to be done. In addition,  the Creative Careers Programme is actively promoting the creative industries in schools. This will take time but without transparency around recruitment, promotion, and in particular, pay for freelancers, the impact of Covid-19, and Brexit, may well see a retreat in this area.

Regional Creativity

The concentration of the creative industries in London and its environs has been long noted. The recent flurry of activity by other major metropolitan areas to establish creative funds and creative hubs illustrates an awareness of the importance of creatives to the future of cities beyond London.  The limitations of many of these approaches has been pointed out  in ‘Finding Your Local Creatives‘.  The metro-centric approach is also present in the AHRC’s £80m Creative Clusters Research and Development programme supported by £39m of government funds.  Each of the nine successful bids is focused on a major city with minimal reference to the rural parts of the UK.

The bigger question is how to support creatives who do not, or cannot, move to the major cities. With only 90+ cities over 100,000, while there are over 900 between 10,000 and 100,000 the scale of this challenge is obvious, and this does not take into account the 17% plus of the population who live in rural areas. The failure of the sector deal, and other government initiatives to address this issue exposes a long standing metro-centric vision of creativity in the UK.

A Digital Future?

A major solution to the latter point and a substantial means of supporting the diversity of freelancers and micro-companies would be the creation of a UK wide digital support network, as outlined in BCre8ive’s  ‘The Creative Pipeline.’ Some progress has been made on this front since 2017, in particular, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) collection of nearly 200 finance and other support for businesses online, and the Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board Charter all point to developing a new approach to support the majority of the creative industries. However, much of this support is generic and not tailored to creatives or creative enterprises.

The danger is that post Covid-19, and Brexit, these small significant changes will be overrun by the demands of the bigger creative companies. Companies that have an established lobbying power, and seek only to maintain their dominant position in the global markets at the expense of freelancers and micro-companies.

The consequences of such a scenario would be the retention of the existing networks and a furtherance of the lack of access, and inclusivity, into the future. A scenario which would inhibit growth and productivity across the creative industries.

5 Positive Steps to Increase Access to the Creative Industries

1. Provide substantial educational support for those people who are seen to have poor literacy skills, and a lacking in basic digital skills. Note new Skills Toolkit

2. Increase the level of transparency around recruitment, pay levels for freelancers, and internships within the creative industries via new labour legislation and transparency culture.

3. Improve the national and local/regional access support for freelancers and micro-companies to ensure future growth and productivity. In particular:

  • Ensuring all schools provide creative courses within the national curriculum, including BTEC.
  • Provide one-year access courses to creative work for all school and college leavers, who choose it.
  • The provision of materials grants for university students from low income backgrounds.
  • The provision of an annual voucher system for freelancers and micro-company employees to access free training.
  • The creation of a national digital information portal focussed on business and training support for freelancers and micro-companies in the creative industries.

4. Involve freelancers and micro-companies in all national and regional industry decision making bodies.

5. Engage with under-represented people in a meaningful plan of action to change the current situation to make creative enterprise more inclusive.


Please comment, share, and take up these points with the people you live and work with.

All images from Pexels

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15 Responses to 5 Positive Steps to Inclusion in the Creative Industries

  1. ELEANOR YULE says:

    This blog is invaluable resource for the whole community – I particularly like the way in which other documents have been linked to the text which would be hard to find on my own but have been thoughtfully highlighted for the users – the governments clear inability to cope/ finance or understand freelancers through Covid reinforces the points made here. Information gives you choices. There’s a deep lack of understanding of how the sector works which has now been made very transparent here – Could this blog br an aid to government ministers to start to engaging realistically with the industry?

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for the support and by sharing the blog and raising the questions with everyone we work with I hope we will bring about change – with or without ministers support, though having it would be great.

  2. An excellent resource for today’s creatives who, threatened by the lockdown and the Covid outbreak in ways that have never happened before, have to take responsibility for their futures. That cannot be done without understanding the social and economic challenges to the creative industries and how to start tackling them, which this blog outlines.

    Anyone thinking of starting or restarting a creative business post-Covid should read this and pass it on. And yes, government should look at and learn from this.

    • Phil says:

      Thank you for this positive response, and highlighting the need for us all to take action. Please pass on a link to anyone you think may be able to promote any of the 5 Positive Steps.

  3. preethi says:

    Totally agree, but we can’t sit on policies as Phil says, we have to act to bring about change.

  4. Funke Oyebanjo says:

    In these uncertain times, this blog is a positive and thoughtful response and lays the foundations for the informed and innovative practices needed to keep the community and sector alive, relevant and accessible. It should be read as a significant contribution to and guidance for the creative industry’s navigation through and beyond Covid-19.

    Along with the continuous growing social and economic polarisation in the UK, the sector without drastic action, faces a crisis. The article outlines that the government’s Covid-19 financial response to creative freelancers, will only take the sector so far. Question is, will the government engage with the industry realistically? No, is my knee-jerk reaction, Health and the Treasury are the sectors currently pulling government focus at the moment.

    However, in reflection, my answer is yes, the creative industry is part of and drives the wider economy. That said, realistic government engagement is predicted on a consistent and concrete effort on an epic scale to make sure the recommendations delineated in the article, are part of our discussions as educators, creators freelancers and companies within the creative sector. First call to action- share this blog!

  5. Phil says:

    Thanks for this Funke, and yes government has to be part of the solution, but it can only be a part. The top down approach has failed us too many times, we have to be the engines of change.

  6. Hi Phil

    I absolutely agree. And you’re doing a great job.

    Without diversity, the arts always suffer. Part of the problem, of course, is helping young men and women from untypical backgrounds to realise they even have the possibility of being artists.

    Another is simply money. Excuse me getting political (except that of course it always comes down to politics one way or another) but I don’t feel that a multiplicity of establishment funding organisations is the entire answer. One problem is that such organisations are always behind the curve, looking for replicas of the last big thing rather than diverse talents (in all senses of the words).

    I’d be interested to know what you feel about basic income schemes. Such a scheme would ensure that all people from all backgrounds had the opportunity to take the time needed to develop their skills, without having to jump through pre-determined hoops. (It would also help in many other areas of society, but that’s for another day)

    • Phil says:

      Hi Charles, thanks for the support on this. On the question of minimum incomes these will be seriously considered, I am sure, in the not too distant future. However,whether this will be an opportunity for people to learn skills, etc. will be determined by our ability to provide ladders of oppoortunity to participate in a global world.

  7. Tanya Nash says:

    An excellent post and great resource as other commenters have pointed out.

    I agree that creative courses or teaching any subject via the creative arts empowers all young people, especially if they have different learning styles like dyslexia. And we do need more apprenticeship learning opportunities after school, rather than more academic degree courses. They could even be within the same colleges. Education brings confidence to go out into the world and ways to make it more useful to young people is what I think they need.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for this, and yes a massive refocus of education, with respect to creative activities and engagement, is now critical to moving forward.

  8. Joanna Leigh says:

    Phil, I absolutely agree that lack of diversity is a huge problem in our culture.

    Children and young people who are working class, BAME, live in rural areas or have special needs don’t stand a chance if they are denied art education. Unpaid internships are, frankly, a national disgrace, keeping all but the wealthy and well-connected out of the picture, with nepotism guaranteed.

    Another issue that I would like to bring up is language. I come from a rural working class background, and found the middle class metropolitan world fiercely intimidating. Most intimidating of all was the language. It felt as if middle class people spoke a different variety of English, one that we would never understand or master. (I spent hours watching The Late Show and listening to Radio 4 in a deliberate campaign to master it!)

    So everyone, please remember to use plain English when communicating to families and young people, and to give definitions of any technical terms.

    • Phil says:

      Brilliant. This reflects the tale of the the woman visual artist who set up a studio in Hoxton, and learnt to speak ‘Posh’ so she could be accepted into the art world! Language has always been part of the ‘unintended’ exclusion barrier, and we need to work against it.

  9. Great article. Some solid points.

    Another major problem in the overall job market that is never discussed but might be worth disrupting is the commission-based system when a head hunter,
    recruitment agencies, or platforms connect talent to a company. In my opinion, that’s the main barrier to employment. To avoid paying these commissions, one typical behaviour is to find people within your own “network” through recommendations. Because of that, chances are not equal.

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