Report predicts “cultural catastrophe” in UK as creative industries stand to lose £74 billion in wake of pandemic

Report predicts “cultural catastrophe” in UK as creative industries stand to lose £74 billion in wake of pandemic
Visitors crowd a gallery of London's National Gallery in 2018 long before the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy Flickr Commons.

As the UK moves forward in relaxing lockdown parameters, museums, galleries, and other arts and cultural organisations are anxious to have foot traffic once again. However, the anticipation of normalcy is tinged with a new report that found UK creative industries (an umbrella that includes many industries, from the visual arts to radio production) are set to see a £74 billion dip in revenue this year, the effects of which are sure to be felt for years.

Published today, Oxford Economics’ “The Projected Economic Impact of COVID-19 on the UK Creative Industries” predicts that the creative industry within the UK is “on the brink of devastation” as one in five creative jobs are expected to be cut this year. The report backs up the concerns of an open letter penned and signed in April by more than 400 artists, creatives, and cultural figures –  including Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, and Jonathan Pryce – sent to the UK government, calling on them to intervene in order to avoid the UK becoming a “cultural wasteland.”

If the report’s figures become reality, 2020 will see a £29 billion fall in GVA (gross value added), representing a 25 percent decrease from that of 2019. The report anticipates that a total of 406,000 jobs within the creative industry will be lost, a figure that is nine times the number of people employed by British Airways. Of the jobs at stake, 119,000 would be those who are permanently employed creative workers and another 287,000 would be freelance roles.

The report is particularly bleak given that before the pandemic hit, the creative sector was growing five times quicker than the overall economy. Prior to the impacts of COVID-19, more than two million people were employed by creative industries while the industry, as a whole, contributed £111.7 billion to the economy, beating out the combined contributions of the automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and oil and gas industries.

Caroline Norbury, MBE and CEO of Creative Industries Federation, was one of many leaders within the creative sector to urge the UK government to take action stating: “Our creative industries have been one of the UK’s biggest success stories but what today’s report makes clear is that, without additional government support, we are heading for a cultural catastrophe. If nothing is done, thousands of world-leading creative businesses are set to close their doors, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost and billions will be lost to our economy. The repercussions would have a devastating and irreversible effect on our country.”

The report was released just a day after Art Fund pledged £2 million in grants to aid museums and galleries across the UK that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. In May, Art Fund released their own report, which found that 85 percent of UK directors were concerned about how museums and galleries will move forward even as lockdown lifts. “The future of our museums and galleries, which are so vital to society, is far from certain,” said Art Fund director Jenny Waldman who encouraged any museum or gallery immediately at risk to contact the Fund. “However,” she continued, “these steps alone will not secure the future – more help is required.”

Waldman’s concerns, which echo those of many within the creative sector, are now even more poignant in light of Oxford Economics’ findings. Oxford Economics’ entire report can be found here.