Thursday, 14 January 2016

After the Spending Review, the campaigns continue

As the analysis of the Spending Review comes in, campaigning for the arts is set to continue, writes Julie McCalden.

Having been told to plan for 20% or 40% cuts, the arts are breathing a collective sigh of relief after the chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

Had a 40% cut been implemented, Arts Council England’s budget would have been decimated to just £186m, compared to £453m in the final year of the Labour government and £325m at the end of the coalition.

In an unexpected move, Arts Council England were not only spared but promised a modest increase in cash (£10million per annum). National galleries and museums will also see increased budgets and free entry will be protected.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will still receive cuts of 20% to be targeted at its core administration budget (yet to be specified) and further cuts to local authority budgets of £6.1bn by 2019-20 will complicate matters.

If Arts Council England and National Portfolio Organisations have come out relatively unscathed, the picture is not so rosy for those at the bottom of the food chain.

While many artists, who are largely self-employed and low-paid, will be celebrating the u-turn on changes to tax-credits, concerns about the introduction of Universal Credit remain. In a joint statement released ahead of the spending review, the Scottish Artists Union (SAU) and Artists’ Union England (AUE) said: “We believe that the stringent enforcement conditions of Universal Credit will result in far greater hardship and debt for artists and makers in receipt of top-up benefits.”

The new conditions include a minimum level of assumed earnings based on hours worked and the minimum wage.Claimants are also required to submit monthly accounts, which is inconsistent with the variable frequency of artists’ paid work opportunities and the often lump-sum nature of their payments.

Creative education

The deterioration of creative education in schools is another concern for the sector. While Osborne promised increased funding to attract new teachers, this will be largely aimed at STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to help implement plans for an English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

The EBacc requires pupils to study a minimum of seven GCSEs, but includes no creative subjects; risking art, dance, design, drama, music and other creative subjects disappearing from children’s education altogether. The Bacc for the future campaign aims to challenge plans for the EBacc, which risks eroding access to the arts for young people, increasing inequality of opportunity when it comes to experiencing culture and further diminishing entryways to working in the arts.

For those just embarking on their careers, changes to student loan repayments and housing benefit caps will add to the difficulties faced by artists when trying to establish their practices.

All of this will negatively impact on the lack of diversity that already characterises the arts. The findings of the recent Panic!survey into social mobility in the sector confirmed that class, gender and ethnicity still have a major influence on a person’s ability to enter, progress and succeed in the arts.

The survey revealed that it is becoming increasingly difficult for those without other means of financial support to break into the sector, with young people from less well-off backgrounds being at a particular disadvantage. This inequality inevitably results in the production of cultural forms that are mainly reflective of a small, and privileged, spectrum of human experience. The majority of people remain excluded both from arts production and consumption.

Greet with caution

So although on the face of it positive for the top rung of the arts, Osborne’s announcement should be greeted with caution. Not least because it has been based on a dramatic reassessment of economic forecasts by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which landed Osborne a windfall of £27billion in time for his announcements.

His proposed budget allows no room for error on predictions wildly different to those made just five months ago. From an organisation without a great success rate in accurate forecasts this throws considerable doubt on the deliverability of Osborne’s promises.

However, it is good news that the chancellor acknowledged the economic benefits that the arts bring to Britain, commenting that a quarter of a £1trillion added to the economy from a £1billion investment was ‘not a bad return’. He went as far to say that “deep cuts in the small budget of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are a false economy” – a point the sector has been arguing since 2010.

It is important that the sector now galvanises around these remarks, not just to hold Osborne to account in the event of adjustments to this budget impacting on the arts, but to begin to make bolder demands for increased funding. The Show Culture Some Love campaign supports the case for greater investment in arts and culture. Its main aims are to campaign for an end to the cuts in arts budgets caused by the pro-austerity policies of the current government and to make the case for increased investment.

Cultural campaigns

Paying Artists campaign
The Paying Artists campaign aims to secure payment for artists who exhibit in publicly-funded galleries. We believe paying artists for the work they do will mean that, in years to come, we’ll still be able to access quality art that reflects the broadest possible spectrum of human experience.

Whether you’re an artist, curator, gallery visitor, art student, policy maker or run a gallery, sign up to the campaign. You can join the debate by following @AIR_artists and using the hashtag #payingartists.

SAU / AUE on Universal Credit
A campaign has been launched by Scottish and English artists’ unions, with the aim of helping freelance and self-employed workers who will be affected by changes to the taxation and benefits system through the introduction of Universal Credit.

Supporters of the campaign can get involved by doing a number of things. This includes: downloading the campaign statement and forwarding to local MPs; arranging a meeting with your MP; and asking your MP to take the issue to the Department for Work & Pensions.

Bacc for the future
The Bacc for the future campaign aims to challenge the implementation of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) which currently includes no creative subjects and is expected to be undertaken by at least 90% of pupils.

As an individual, you can support the campaign by signing the petition and spread the word by telling your colleagues, friends and family as well as through social media using the hash tag #baccforthefuture.

Show Culture Some Love
The Show Culture Some Love campaign believes there is a powerful case against austerity and supports the case for greater investment in arts and culture.

You can support the campaign and their 6 pledges by liking the facebook page and inviting your friends to join, as well as following them on twitter.

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