THE BLOG

There Is A Class Ceiling In The Acting Profession

22/03/2017 09:05
Ben Pruchnie via Getty Images

Late last year Tom Watson, Labour's Shadow Culture Secretary asked Tracy Brabin and I to lead an inquiry into access to careers in film, TV and theatre.

Unlike Tracy, Tom and I don't have any experience of the acting profession but what we see and hear of happening reflects in many ways what is happening in the rest of Britain where high status occupations have a class ceiling for those from working class backgrounds.

It's not just anecdotal evidence that indicates the problem. New figures based on the ONS Labour Force Survey, showed that 51% of actors surveyed were from privileged backgrounds and just 16% were from a working class background. This compares to 33% of the nation coming from working class backgrounds and just 29% coming from affluent backgrounds.

Among award winners the pattern is similar. Research by the Sutton Trust has shown that 42% of all British BAFTA winners went to a private school compared to just 25% who went to a comprehensive school.

The shortage of working class actors is an indicator of a bigger problem - that inequality, class and privilege, not talent, determine whether or not you can make it in a great career like acting.

The creative industries are too important to Britain to just stand by and ignore this problem. So what can we do about it? It's about more than just economics, although low or no pay in the acting world has a huge impact and needs to be tackled.

As politicians you might expect us to say we have all the answers but that would be foolish, because the answers to these questions of class and inequality so rarely - if ever - come from inside Westminster.

For this inquiry we've teamed up with actors, writers, commissioners, producers, directors, campaigners, academics and more, to bring a huge breadth of industry experience to the table thinking about the issues and how to solve them.

Today we've got our first evidence session where we are bringing some contributors to a Parliamentary table to discuss the issues.

Michelle Collins and my colleague Tracy Brabin MP both found that soaps are often a platform for working class talent that provide regular employment and parts for people without London or RP accents. James Graham was a working class boy from my constituency who went on to write one of the biggest political plays of this century - This House and cares about creating stories about working class people that can inspire kids and create roles for working class actors.

Paul Roseby has spent years at the helm of the National Youth Theatre which has been a springboard for stars like Matt Smith and provided a route sometimes alternative to drama school. Lucy Milner is an experienced Head of Drama at a London school and has seen first-hand the gulf between drama provision in the metropolis and places like North Nottinghamshire where kids have to drive an hour to the nearest theatre and don't see people like themselves on TV. Geoff Colman, Head of acting at Central School of Speech and Drama has trained the next generation of British stars like Cush Jumbo and is championing access from inside the conservatoires. Ayesha Casely-Hayford chairs campaign group Act for Change that is spearheading work on issues of diversity and inclusion.

This fantastic panel are helping us identify the weak links in the class ceiling and will be joining us in developing policies to try and smash it.

Labour won't rest until all great jobs are accessible to working class people from ordinary backgrounds and acting is no different. It's this inquiry's mission to take those barriers on and contribute to the drive to make sure creativity doesn't hit a class ceiling.

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