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Sunak proposes swapping studio sessions for stacking shelves

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the world, we will continue to see multiple governments fail to control it, and Westminster is no exception. Earlier this month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak spoke to ITV, and produced the headline that he wanted people in the creative sector to retrain for different industries. 

While he claims his words were taken out of context, the transcript shows that while the Chancellor may not have been as blunt as the original headline suggested, his words still carried a tone of dismissal towards a sector that has already faced challenges against a government that hasn’t given them adequate support. 

Even after the headline was amended, the damage had already been done. Prominent musicians like Liam Gallagher, as well as the general public, rightly criticised the Chancellor for ignoring an entire sector, especially one that has historically been a source of pride. So let’s talk about why Mr. Sunak’s comments have led to such a massive uproar. 

“That is a fresh and new opportunity for people. That’s exactly what we should be doing.” This is what he said when asked if the UK government’s advice to people in the creative sector was to “get another job”. Many sensed the Chancellor’s words felt offhand. 

What’s more, in saying this he appears to disregard the fact that many artists, musicians, and writers already have other jobs, the arts already being such a tough sector to work in. Telling people to retrain for another career not only undermines the fact they already have one, but also seems to suggest that working in the creative sector is an indulgent hobby, and not a viable career path. 

The concern is that if only people who can ‘afford’ to make music make it, we’ll miss out on a generation of art that is born from struggle or hardship. Arguably the best music from the past few decades has been characterised by a difficult path to the top, or by scathing observations of society below the wealthiest. If pursuing music is rebranded as pastime instead of passion, this knock-on effect could change the way music is made, and also consumed. 

This isn’t even taking into account the loss of income the pandemic has caused. It’s not an understatement to say that the government has not done nearly enough to support them since. The creative industry has injected more than £5 billion into the UK economy, even by the Conservatives’ own estimates, and while they have been willing to market themselves as a hub for creativity and culture, drawing crowds with Ed Sheeran and Stormzy, they don’t follow up on their promises. 

The government has not given nearly enough funding to an initiative that has been poorly organised, and as a result, the people they are trying to help haven’t received the aid they need. Those in crisis can’t wait much longer and many grassroots live music venues are on the verge of shutting down, if they have not succumbed already. 

So, it’s established that the government hypes up an industry that benefits the country financially, but won’t give them the same financial aid when they desperately need it. Where does Mr. Sunak think we should go from here? Since his comments on ITV, the UK Careers Service has been offering a test to suggest which professions you could ‘retrain’ for, providing unlikely results such as boxer and baker.

It’s easy to label people who are ‘following their dreams’ as entitled when they criticise the government for the lack of support they get, but it’s even easier to forget the impact they have when their art becomes ubiquitous. No one would remember the Beatles as much if they all decided to just work in the IT department instead.

Image: Number 10 via Flickr

By Yu An Su

Music Editor