Chancellor’s call for creatives to abandon ship is what’s unviable

Ali Waggie, freelance designer · 15 October 2020

I want to address the recent Job Support Scheme announcement from the Chancellor – and the situation in general where the creative industries have been deemed “not viable”.

Ali Waggie, freelance designer and Bectu member. Photo credit: LIsa J. Brindley. Image for Thursday Thoughts blog

Ali Waggie, freelance designer and Bectu member. Photo credit: LIsa J. Brindley.

What’s unviable here is the Chancellor’s proposal to help those in need to retrain, and I speak from experience.

COVID-19 rules out event florists

Two years ago, I decided that it was time to leave the theatre industry. This was my own choice, and at that stage I didn’t know what was next and it took some time to figure it out.

I continued to work as a freelance/casual during this time, and had to claim universal credit when needed, while also in part time study.

Having requalified, I intended to start job hunting and use the new skills to expand within my freelance design work, which I still do and remain a Bectu member for.

But COVID-19 struck, lockdown happened and as it turns out, I’ve picked an unfeasible career route – there is currently no need for event florists.

Retraining provides no guarantees

I am lucky as I do currently have a job in retail – not what I had planned to do, but I am able to pay my outgoings.

A lot of members are not in this position and for them there is no sign of work on the horizon.

My point is: while I’m sure the Chancellor is very sincere in his desire to help workers in the entertainment industry find work by offering the opportunity to retrain, it isn’t what we want and – as I discovered – there is no guarantee of work at the end of this tunnel.

We don’t necessarily want to become nurses or accountants or anything that he deems a “viable” career, or accept any role shelf-stacking, admin-based or as a teaching assistant (that was a good one, my language is far too colourful to be allowed in a classroom) just to pay our bills.

While I chose to leave the industry, others have not and have had to accept redundancy unhappily.

We are all passionate about choosing this industry as a career. We are good at it and if Mr Sunak wants us all to abandon ship and swim to new shores, my first suggestion is that he wipe out our student debt.

As there now are no jobs for us, the very least he can do is repay the balance of our now “useless” qualifications. Offering us the chance to retrain isn’t the answer.

A raw deal

Artistes, particularly, are getting a raw deal, as a great many have been performers from childhood and know no other work. We are absolutely the worst-off industry by miles and nothing is being done for us in the way it has been for the hospitality industry with Eat out to Help Out and the like.

I have 20 years’ experience of theatre and live events. I work as a freelance designer and wished to use these skills in another area, so undertook the training to expand upon it and move away from theatre industry.

It was always going to be hard work to start over but now it just won’t happen as we are in a recession and there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. What’s unviable is telling hundreds of thousands of professionals that they must accept this.

Ali Waggie is a freelance designer with more than 15 years’ experience of stage design and project management.