Unsurprisingly from the country that gave the world the concept of philistinism, the 2015 Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth – otherwise known as the Warwick Report – has found that “the government and the cultural and creative industries need to take a united and coherent approach that guarantees equal access for everyone to a rich cultural education and the opportunity to live a creative life. There are barriers and inequalities in Britain today that prevent this from being a universal human right. This is bad for business and bad for society.”
Launched in 2013, the Warwick Commission sought “evidence and testimony from over 200 individuals from across the arts, culture and heritage sectors, the creative industries, organisations responsible for arts development and training, government bodies and academics.” According to the Warwick Report’s statistics, the UK’s cultural and creative businesses and assets contribute “almost £77bn [$118 billion] in value added, equivalent to 5.0% of the economy. The latest DCMS estimates show that they grew by 9.9% in 2013, higher than any other sector.”
One of the flaws in the Warwick Report’s whole ethos should be obvious, though. Culture doesn’t exist to create added economic value, any more than human beings are born for the purpose of creating added economic value. Culture is a value in itself, and economic values can be judged by it every much as it can be judged by theirs. Lack of recognition of this is one of the basic flaws of the UK’s entire public policy apparatus. That said, it never hurts to underline the fringe benefits that culture brings. Pretty substantial ones.
And those benefits, whether economic or intellectual, are being denied to a vast slice of the British people. “The diversity of the creative workforce in Britain has progressively contracted over the past five years,” the Warwick Report states. “The stark reality is that the possibility to express oneself artistically and creatively at a professional level is curtailed by social background and personal characteristics to an unacceptable degree, as many campaigns and media declarations by high-profile members of the British cultural and creative community have pointed out.” And that’s only in the workforce. As for the audiences, “the two most highly culturally engaged groups account for only 15% of the general population and tend to be of higher socio-economic status. The wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all.” Even more alarming, “there are also worrying trends towards a decrease in participation by children in most cultural activities.”
Perhaps it’s a slight numerical improvement on the One Percent, but the numbers make it clear: Cultural life in the UK is predominantly segregated away from the vast majority of the population, and the situation is getting worse. Maybe brute-force economic arguments are the only ones that will convince British policy-makers what a tragedy this is, but the signs are not good. Commentators have highlighted the hollowing out of culture-related education in the UK, while Scottish writer Ali Smith has said simpl that “the Warwick commission has raised things which are horrific … I find it deeply distressing that around a third of kids compared to five years ago now have no contact with the arts. It is causing damage at every level and it needs to be addressed.”