This column appeared in the Friday 17th July 2020 edition of the South London Press.
Since the Covid-19 crisis hit, my inbox has been flooded with emails from constituents in need of support. In June alone, my team opened three times as many cases for people in need of assistance as they did during the same period last year, and we responded to thousands of emails about government and Labour Party policy.
Given the number of people in Lewisham Deptford who work in the arts, it’s no surprise that one of the biggest issues people have contacted me about is the future of our cultural sector.
I have heard from opera singers, actors, musicians, directors, front of house staff and many more. Many are self-employed, others are on zero hours or short-term PAYE contracts. Whilst they of course understand why venues have had to remain closed for such a long time, they have grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of government support for the sector.
It can be easy to dismiss the arts as ‘nice to have’ rather than essential at a time like this, but culture can be absolutely vital to our well-being. And that does not just apply to the middle-classes; as a working-class Lancashire lass who studied performing arts at college, I can vouch for the fact that culture is important to people from all walks of life.
Since the very start of the Covid-19 crisis the Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport team has been pushing the Government on support for the sector. After far too long a delay, the Prime Minister finally announced last month that from July 4th theatres and concert halls could reopen, but would not be able to put on any live shows. This seemed like a bizarre compromise that would do little to prevent redundancies.
Following a further surge in pressure from the sector and Opposition MPs, this week the Chancellor has finally announced a £1.57 billion rescue package to help cultural, arts and heritage institutions. While this is a significant amount of funding and has the potential to make a big difference to the sector, our concern now is whether it will get to the places which really need it (such as smaller arts venues) before it is too late. We know that some venues have already closed or had to make their staff redundant. We also need to ensure that other community spaces and events – such as music festivals, libraries and youth theatres – are supported.
Our cultural sector had already been hit hard by the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and now Covid-19 has dealt it another huge blow. If we are to ensure its long-term to survival, we must continue to hold the Government to account and fight for sustainable solutions to the funding crisis.