Culture Club: Social mobility in the creative and cultural industries


London is one of the world’s principal cities of culture, but access to cultural employment and production is denied to too many, undermining equality of opportunity and jeopardising future success.

This report aims to complement and expand on existing research on representation in the creative and cultural industries by adopting a London angle and focusing on three socio-economic factors (social class, gender and ethnicity). It considers barriers from the perspective of underrepresented young people themselves, as well as reflecting the views of educational institutions and employers.

The creative and cultural industries are a central part of London’s economy…

  • In 2015 the economic output (GVA) of the creative industries was £42 billion – an increase of 38 per cent in nominal terms since 2009.
  • London accounts for more than 40 per cent of the United Kingdom’s creative sector employment.
  • From 2012 to 2016, the number of jobs in the creative and cultural industries in London rose by 24 per cent, bringing the total number to over 880,000.

…But evidence suggests that certain groups of young people are not able to break into these industries.

  • Women and BAME people are underrepresented in most creative and cultural industries, with evidence of a gender and ethnicity glass ceiling effect.
  • Working class employees are also underrepresented. Analysis conducted by the Greater London Authority found that 95 per cent of employees in the sector were categorised as coming from a more advantaged background.

Unequal access to economic, social and cultural capital creates inequalities in entering and progressing within the sector. Lack of economic capital (i.e. financial resources) creates a number of fundamental problems:

  • Without alternative income sources, it is hard for many people to pursue a low-paid or unpaid entry-level role.
  •  Unpaid positions remain widespread in the sector, a challenge that is intensified by the high cost of living in London.
  •  This creates inequalities as economic capital can also contribute to the acquisition of both social capital and cultural capital.

Lack of social capital (i.e. personal networks and relationships) generates further obstacles:

  • Much recruitment in the creative and cultural industries is carried out through networks – via word of mouth, links with family and friends, or personal recommendations – rather than through openly advertised jobs.
  •  For many people trying to break into the sector, developing these connections relies on taking unpaid positions “to get a foot in the door”.
  •  Educational institutions are seeking to fill the gaps, but the benefits of knowing someone already working in the sector remain considerable and present a barrier to students who don’t have established networks.

Cultural capital (i.e. skills, know-how, tastes, behaviours, and degrees) also plays a large role:

  • Cultural capital is typically acquired by one’s participation in the arts outside the education system– which is more likely in middle class backgrounds.
  • Career paths in creative and cultural industries are notoriously murky: many young people lack the “know-how” to get ahead, while facing parental pressure to pursue more structured career options.
  • Furthermore, the process of hiring talent often unconsciously selects employees on the basis of their cultural fit; many senior managers continue to believe that the sector is more meritocratic than it is in reality.

Cultural employers and educators need to do more to widen accessibility and opportunity…

  • Employers and educational institutions should amend their recruitment practices to focus on broader skills rather than simply on academic achievement, as well as improving the uptake of mentoring.
  • All internships in the creative and cultural industries should pay at least the National Living Wage and made subject to the Mayor’s “Good Work Standard”; larger cultural employers should offer at least the London Living Wage for internships and entry-level roles.
  • Employers – especially larger employers – should take part in the Social Mobility Foundation Index, so that they can track their own progress.
  • In light of the recent government funding announcement for apprenticeships, the creative and cultural industries should work with the Institute for Apprenticeships and the National Apprenticeship Service to address the gaps in cultural training.

…But the Mayor of London also has a role to play.

  • The Mayor should champion the creative and cultural industries as a place of opportunity and success stories, as many parents are sceptical about their children’s chances of success in this sector.
  • The Mayor should use his convening role to encourage cultural businesses to take a long-term view of the cultural workforce pipeline needed to keep London’s creative economy thriving.

The creative and cultural industries are some of London’s most economically successful sectors as well as among the most resilient to automation. Hence, there is a strong argument for broadening access to and mobility within the sector. This is an issue of equity, but also of sectoral success: failing to make the most of London’s diverse talent will weaken the city’s creative output.