Freelancers, the UK downplays the creative industries at its peril

You might not guess that it was an Economics lesson way back when that has stayed with me -- a specialist in the Creative industries.

But it has done, for unenviable reasons as far as perception of the creative and cultural sector is concerned, yet also for reasons that remain relevant today and which inform a presentation I gave to a United Nations event last month in Dubai, writes Eliza Easton, head of policy unit at the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC).

Freshly launched, our 11-point plan…

Before I share that lesson with you, it might be helpful to know more about PEC. In particular, in December 2021, the centre launched a ‘Global Agenda for the Cultural and Creative Industries.’

This was the PEC’s contribution to the United Nations 2021 International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development and was written by the PEC’s International Council, which is run in partnership with the British Council.

Touching on the lives of cultural and creative professionals, the agenda sets out 11 key actions for international creative industries and governments worldwide to support the growth of creative industries and help them to tackle some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. These actions include those relating to freelancers in particular, who make up a significant part of the global creative industries including one in three creative workers in the UK.

History in the making

Significantly, this is the first time that an international group representing the global creative industries has come together with these goals in mind.

Furthermore, this coming together represents the culmination of a two-year coordinated discussion spanning more than 18 countries.

We launched the agenda at the World Conference on Creative Economy, which was at the Dubai Expo.

Audiences, teachings, announcements

To that audience, and to FreelanceUK’s audience here, I shared my experience of that fateful Economics lesson, which I mentioned at the outset of this article. And as you’ll read (below), to my mind, one of its indirect teachings is that our 11-point agenda is critical for this area of the economy in a way it may not be in others.

Specifically, it was an Economics diploma which I took a few years ago. After hours (and hours) on the manufacturing sector, our class finally got to a page which talked about the cultural and creative industries.

Well, I was shocked when the teacher announced, “This area of the economy is a bit different…we don’t need to study it for your exam.” And the instruction we received was for us to read on. We never returned to those pages.

Different, and therefore downplayed? It's our creative industries

This is just a small but significant illustration of the undeniable fact that almost wherever you are in the world, the economic and social value of the creative and cultural sector is downplayed. It’s particularly downplayed by policymakers but also by academic institutions and even by some journalists. It is different, and it can be confusing, so it’s felt that it is easier to omit than to include.

This is why the UK set up the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre in the first place. We are funded by the UK’s industrial strategy fund, through the Arts and Humanities Council and made up of a consortium of 10 universities led by Nesta (PEC’s parent organisation). We are led by an ambition to try to build a robust evidence base on this relatively new sector in areas from trade to rural investment, from diversity to the future of broadcasting. This is in order to ensure that policymakers and academics in particular understand the heft and needs of the sector. 

National won’t cut it

But we knew -- from the very beginning -- that there was no point in thinking about issues relating to the cultural and creative industries from only a national context! As our international agenda sets out, the creative and cultural industries must be better understood and supported at the international level should we want to reach the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Why is this the case? I will touch briefly on two examples raised in the agenda.

First, the creative industries are overwhelmingly made up of freelancers and micro-businesses. For example, in the UK one in three people in the sector are self-employed.

The unregistered, and the untapped solutions

Through the council’s discussions we have learnt how minimal representation is for this group at a local, national and international level and how this leads to limited protections and being overlooked in key policy areas. Globally, the sector also includes many creative individuals who are part of the informal economy -- that means they are not officially registered as workers at all. If we want to lift people out of poverty and to promote equality, then no strategy can continue to ignore these individuals whether the person in question might be an unregistered designer in Thailand or a freelance craftsman in the UK.

Second, we believe that at full strength the sector is absolutely core to solving other global issues -- for example those relating to climate. Fashion might be a polluter at the moment, but the most innovative brands in the sector are also suggesting some of the answers to this pollution. Designers and architects are core to changing the way we live and promoting sustainability. And the arts, film, advertising, games and other creative sub-sectors all have a big challenge ahead in getting to net-zero themselves but also will play a role in challenging individuals and policymakers to do the same.

Final thought

Those are just a couple of examples: others are listed in the agenda as a whole, which has now been formally launched and presented to UNCTAD and UNESCO. Now we just need to make sure that these global lessons, and their implications at a local, national and international level are not forgotten.


6th January 2022

Related News

Latest News