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The Problem With Creativity

In the same way that investing in health is promoted as protecting the workforce and investing in education is branded as training the workforce, creativity is not valued without profit. 

A survey found that the median hourly rate of pay for UK artists was £2.60, which fell to £1.88 per hour for artists producing artworks or exhibitions. With large lump-sum payments being the standard rate of pay for many artists, the hours of labour involved in their projects often get ignored.  For many artists and creatives alike, there is a feeling of life collapsing into work. 

An artist or creative’s commitment to self-expression often creates someone who is both—the ideal capitalist and romanticises them as heroically free. Yet, the freedom that comes with being creative requires resources. The vast majority of jobs in the creative sector earn under the average annual salary of roles outside of the sector. 

There is a mentality seeping through the creative economy that if you gain pleasure and purpose from your livelihood, it should be enough to sustain you. This is where we see the rise of cheap labour occurring, where creatives are paid lower than the marginal value of what they produce.

The government’s priority sectors for economic growth have been the creative industries, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling them “a true British success story.” The Department for Culture's Creative Industries Sector Vision states that “on education, we need to provide equal access to the creative and cultural sectors and build a foundation of knowledge and pathways into the creative industries at every stage, from schools to further and higher education, to foster creative talent early on.” This is being backed with £77 million in new government investment.

In the same breath, Sunak has also announced plans to cut the number of  “rip-off” degrees that do not provide students with a high enough salary to pay off their student debt. This provides an interesting disconnect with the aforementioned sector vision plans for education when we consider that creative degrees have the lowest median starting salary in the UK at just £20k. 

Despite the lower wages of the sector, creative industries contribute over £100bn to the UK economy.  It is a sector that is growing annually, but with so much creative work being underpaid and valued only monetarily, such a statistic seems hard to believe. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that cultural and creative occupations have always been and continue to be determined by class backgrounds, leaving them inaccessible for many. 

Pursuing work in the creative sector presents so much more risk for those without a safety net to support them. Many creative industry jobs ensure that the pursuit of one’s passions and a fair wage remain mutually exclusive. This forces many to leave the industry and deters many others from entering it to begin with. The industry is therefore more heavily saturated with people who can already afford to pursue it, allowing it to remain in this state of reliance on cheap labour. 

Edited by Mariyam

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