Exploring inequalities during coronavirus

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Is all Coronavirus support equal?

As industries across Wales and beyond find themselves in COVID-19 isolation lock down, this pandemic has unmasked for many, the absurdities of financial, social and class inequalities that are deeply embedded within our society.

Are there many people not thinking there must be a better, more humane way to approach equality in our society? Ensuring now more than ever, that there is equal access, inclusion and representation within the creative industries: from TV to film, theatre to arts, animation and games, remains important during this period of mass-isolation.

Except, not everyone is in isolation, not everyone is afforded that luxury (and it is a luxury), not supermarket workers, not childcare staff, not NHS practitioners, not delivery drivers, not teachers, not pharmacists…the list of key workers who are holding us together is long and many are typically low grade, low paid yet vital roles. As this article entitled ‘White Collar quarantine over virus - spotlights class divide’ in the New York Times acutely observes, ‘there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency’.

Acts of kindness, appreciation and community cohesion are evident but there is a sense of growing unease that when the imposed structures of our society disappear overnight, like a mirage – there is much to consider about what we have built, its value and reflect on how as a society we operate. highlighted in this article, that specifically examines the topic of ‘flattening the curve’:

‘Covid-19 shows in a time lapse what economic, ecologic and education system failures created in slow motion for the last 3 to 4 decades and what ‘business as usual’ might mean for our future if we don’t take drastic measures very soon’   

This global crisis has made apparent for many more people, the gaping societal inequalities that are created and perpetuated by our social, economic and cultural constructs and how fragile these constructs are.


Are diversity and equality still important for Creative Industries during COVID-19?

For creative and cultural industries, inequality and inaccessibility have unfortunately long been defining attributes, with only 16.4% of those in creative occupations being from working class backgrounds.   [1]

Deborah Williams, Chief of Creative Diversity Network warned this week in ‘Broadcast’ that diversity should be embedded and not marginalised as an ‘add on’ at this time of crisis and should be at the core of programming and thinking in terms of work adjustments and solutions.

Arts Council England have been praised for their communicative response and rapid emergency package. They have publicly outlined how their response has considered accessibility in line with their diversity and inclusion standards.

Many have been reflecting on how those at the intersection of protected characteristics may fare less favourably as the pandemic progresses. This blog post from, Marcus Ryder (Visiting Professor at the new Media and Diversity Centre at Birmingham University) argues in Women in TV and COVID-19 that  women in screen industries are at risk of being marginalised  ‘according to the UK Office for National Statistics, women still do almost three times the amount of childcare duties compared to men’. If, as in in China, schools remain closed when TV production re-commences, this could have significant impact on gender representation in the creative workforce. 

Dr Maria Barrett, Assistant Prof. at Warwick University explores ‘Arts in the time of coronavirus’ from an audience perspective, the impact on small ventures and the new possibilities opened up. The article reminds us that many of these possibilities, particularly online- were ever ready for all pre-corona. But they were not always accessible to all.  ‘Like the weather, a pandemic, hits everyone, but the wealthy are always more ready to survive the storm’.

BECTU, amongst others, has led the charge in support of self-employed and freelance workers. They have highlighted that ‘the stop-start nature of freelance work means that many workers were not under contract on 1 March, the government’s cut-off point to receive help’. Their recent survey suggests that ‘almost 50% of film industry freelancers won’t qualify’.

While the later announcement from the chancellor around self-employed income support during COVID-19 was welcome for many, there remains many self-employed workers who are falling through the cracks - too complicated, too far away, not enough. Because even a small percentage of a growth industry that contributes £111.7 billion GVA to the UK economy not being supported at this time is still too much. June 2020 is 3 months too far away to even anticipate how those with dependents, financial commitments and food to pay for, may fare.

So where is the good news? As highlighted in last week’s blog on how screen agencies can respond, a range of intermediary bodies have led the way, drawing together support in Wales (as in Scotland and Northern Ireland), developing funding initiatives, evolving their practice, implementing grants and support packages. This includes £18 million committed support from Welsh Government for the culture, creative and sport sectors in Wales. Support has been broken down into a series of individual funds which include £8 Million resilience fund to be managed by Arts Council Wales and a forward thinking £1 Million for grassroots music relief fund at this time managed by Creative Wales.

Access VFX are doing great work supporting their industry and have developed a series of online sessions. These cover areas such as mental health ‘Staying well whilst staying in’, ‘E-mentoring’ and ‘Standing out whilst staying in’. We need to give these topics air, the ‘how-to’ of connecting on-line, working remotely and staying well are of equal, if not more importance than productivity and are not second nature to everyone.

Screen Skills and BBC have launched a series of online talent surgeries and master classes swiftly developed by Donna Taberer (Head of Talent) at BBC Content and these have become hugely oversubscribed. These have been truly welcomed by existing industry featuring big industry hitters and talent to draw in online crowds.

Creative industries ‘in person’ networks are widely evidenced as challenging to access for many, including those who are further away from industry production centres in the screen industries. Where an individual resides permanently is a key determining factor as to the extent that they can access, progress and sustain a continued creative career.

In the old ‘face to face’ world, organisations supporting and developing industry were tasked with ensuring that their practice was inclusive and offered geographic representation and connection for all.  The ambition would be that this directive is taken forward to this new world where we currently connect solely on-line.

In Wales, the geographical spread of creative industries can often be challenging to navigate and achieve parity and inclusion – any organisation who has attempted to organise an ‘accessible for all’  Wales’-wide staff meeting face to face in one day can testify to this. In this sense, online talent surgeries and training from cultural and creative organisations are rapidly adapting with existing technologies to overcome this. Building in considerations for geographic representation into these solutions is now more relevant than ever.

Geography, of course, doesn’t automatically determine your socio-economic status. However when this intersects with other protected characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or disability for example, the barriers and hurdles are significantly higher in terms of access and progression if you reside further away from a creative centre such as Cardiff or London as highlighted in the BFI’s workforce diversity report (2019)

Ensuring that there exist online regional and local role models, mentors and connections for both aspiring and existing creative workers is vital to ensure that information, guidance and support can be meaningfully translated into work for the individual, post-pandemic. Equally, how the impact of initiatives is tracked will be paramount for sustaining and evidencing any future progression.

Observations of best practice: how can organisations ensure crisis solutions consider fair access and equality?

1.     Delivering clear and open online statements about how funding and support has been considered in terms of being accessible and ensuring that this is published and disseminated (via email as well as social networks). Transparency matters more than ever.

2.     Demonstrating openly how existing ‘real-life’ policies around inclusion and equality are being transferred to working practice online. Organisations such as Arts Council England have clearly made their online practice and processes accessible and considered how all of those connecting online can be supported equally, including for those who D/Deaf, disabled or visually impaired. 

3.     Being considerate of carers and parents with childcare responsibilities. Offering meetings and calls at times that work for their employees and if not, recording meetings online for them to watch back.

4.     Delivering online training and sessions in evenings when parents or carers may be able to find the timing more accessible.

As a helpful daily mantra that resonated as an important reminder for many with over £363.5k likes to date from Neil Webb;

“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work”

[1] Work Foundations / PEC Evidence synthesis: Class composition in the creative industries 26/02/20