East London’s creatives struggle under lockdown

COVID safe live concert. Pic: Virgin Money Unity Arena

East London has always been a focal point for young creatives. But since lockdown they have been struggling to find work.

Their plight hit the headlines last week after the chancellor appeared to suggest they should consider retraining if they couldn’t find work because of the pandemic.

Rishi Sunak’s comments to ITV about the effect of the pandemic on people unable to work upset many in the sector – though he later insisted he wasn’t speaking just about the arts. He spoke of a need to “adapt” and suggested there would be “fresh and new opportunities” available for those who could not do their old jobs.

Mr Sunak pointed towards a £1.57 billion fund which is set to be distributed to arts institutions as evidence that the Government is offering support to the sector.

But with so many in the industry working on a freelance basis, very little of that money is likely to filter directly through to creatives who produce art and culture.

Campaign group ExcludedUK believe as many as three million freelance and self-employed workers have been unable to claim on the Government’s support schemes due to various restrictions.

According to Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10 billion a year to the UK economy, with £3 spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel for every £1 spent on theatre tickets.

Amidst the ongoing outrage, Eastlondonlines spoke to three young creatives in East London about their experiences. 

James, a 22-year-old photographer based in Lewisham told Eastlondonlines: “I feel at the start of lockdown there was a lot of pressure to make something incredible as a creative, a lot of people around me were making these incredible introspective and personal projects about being stuck in isolation and I had no drive to do anything like that.”

Nick, a 25 year old musician based in Hackney who works in a bar to support himself told Eastlondonlines: “Before COVID I was just about scraping by, living off £50 per week and still paying my extortionate £600 p/m London rent for a bedroom, but following the first lockdown and reopening in July, hours were cut drastically to the point where the hours I was being offered (10 per week) were actually less than what I would be receiving on Job Seekers Allowance (under £400 p/month).

“With my landlord demanding I pay my rent in full (£600), the prospect of losing £200 p/m on accommodation alone, without factoring into this my living costs, made staying in the position I was in, in London pursuing a career within the creative arts industry unattainable, forcing me to leave my home and my job and move back in with family, or risk going into debt, losing all my savings, and ultimately being without anywhere safe to live in the capital”.

Danai, a 25 year old photographer, illustrator and live music promoter based in Hackney told Eastlondonlines: “This is not the first financial crisis my generation have had to endure and the way the government have handled it is a joke…

“Working-class creatives have to continuously retrain and adapt to their evolving society but not once has the government enabled a system that helps them.”

Nick added: “Rather than supporting people within the creative sector, it seems as though they have just given up on them and completely abandoned creative industries as a whole.”

Users on Twitter have also pointed to the inequalities at play, writing that working-class creatives are forced to take on part-time jobs to support themselves.

Nick added: “How about accepting that the arts a valuable part of our culture and heritage, and perhaps one of the only things the UK actually does well?

“How about not deserting the industry, leaving people high and dry, and sitting down to put some effort into saving what has taken decades to build. Only they have the power over how to spend our (taxpayer’s) money unfortunately, so until something is done to ensure than creative companies and individuals are supported, it’s looking like 2021 is going to be an absolute car crash for music and the arts.”

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