Massive growth for the creative sector, but are workers better-off?

,  16 January 2015

The new creative industries economic figures show a massive growth in the value of sector – but are these gains creating better-off workers?

This week saw the release of the DCMS’s annual creative industries economic estimates, which once again has shown a staggering rate of growth across the sector. The creative industries now account for 5 per cent of the UK economy, and produce a remarkable £76.9 billion in GVA to the UK economy.

The creative industries are booming

The creative industries employ 1.71 million jobs in 2013, and have grown at 3.9 per cent each year between 1997 and 2013. At the same time, the whole economy has grown by just 0.6 per cent in this time.

If you look at the coverage of this announcement, it would seem that everyone is buoyant. Collectively this is a big win in terms of proving the economic worth of the creative industries, which may in turn funnel government investment, private finance and structural improvements through education and skills uptake.

However, I suspect that the individual worker in the creative sector may be a little more bemused by these signs of a booming economic sector.

Wage problems in the creative industries

Do individuals feel they can form viable, long-term careers from the arts?

The economic think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has shown that since the 2008 recession, ‘average real hourly wages’ have fallen by approximately 8 per cent. I think from work done within the creative industries on wages that many ‘core’ creative workers would empathise with this.

Work by ourselves, Nesta and Arts Council England on the theatre sector, A-N on visual artists and the Crafts Council on designer-makers all suggest that income on the whole creative practice is lower than the average UK income, and that in many instances creative practitioners have to work portfolio careers just to make ends meet.

This does leave an open question about how the labour of the ‘core’ creative sector can leave, for example, 71 per cent of visual artists exhibiting in public galleries for no fee at all, while the GVA of the ‘music, visual and performing arts’ sector has increased from £3.7 billion to £5.5 billion from 2008-2013.

Clearly these two points above are not from comparable data points, but I think it still leaves a healthy amount of work for the sector to do in order to support its labour force to achieve a position where both the value of the creative industries can be celebrated and promoted, and where individuals feel that they can form viable, long-term careers from the arts.

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