Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Philip Westcott 'All His Worldly Possessions'. Acrylic on A4 paper. Image courtesy of the artist. www.philipwestcott.co.uk
Boris Johnson seems to want poor people dead, or at least working themselves to death in manual labour. If you're unable to contribute to the economy in monetary value, you’re worthless under capitalism. This is evidenced in the UK Tory party’s refusal to mandate an Employment Bill, for which the Queen recently felt the backlash for not mentioning in her speech on 10th May 2022, which marked the State Opening of Parliament and reveals the UK government’s intended programmes of legislation for the upcoming parliamentary session. But it begs the question, why on Earth would the Queen care about workers’ rights? Historically, this has not been what monarchies are known for.
The increasing cost of living, continual dismissal of fair pay and workers’ rights in this country are not mutually exclusive concepts. It is a targeted attack on those who are already struggling by the Tory government. The cost-of-living crisis should be prevented by the state and yet instead they exacerbate it. Consequently, this has an impact on the arts and cultural sector.
One of the reasons the arts and cultural sector is linked to the cost-of-living crisis is due to a huge shortage of workers in this country, according to the Office for National Statistics, within ‘elementary professions’.
These are professions which require the use of hand-held tools and often some physical effort in repetitive tasks, such as heavy goods vehicle driving and fruit picking. Often these gaps were filled by migrant workers from the European Union, but since we have racistly rejected them by voting for Brexit, most have left. But the infrastructure of the UK depends on these jobs. It is rumoured that expiry dates on the fruit and veg found in British supermarkets are short due to our imports taking so long. Food is not only more expensive but will go bad quicker too.
Philip Westcott 'Feed Me Next'. Acrylic on A4 paper. Image courtesy of the artist. www.philipwestcott.co.uk
The solution our government has found is to make sure the working class stays uneducated and uninspired by driving people to the brink of their existence. When you're struggling to make ends meet, you are more likely to want immediate job security instead of pursuing higher education. Let alone the axing of arts education funding and courses over the last couple of years. Labour opened up the opportunity for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend higher education through expanded enrolment schemes in the 1990’s.
However, with only 16% of people in creative jobs coming from a working-class background, it is likely to remain the realm of the middle and upper classes under Tory rule.
I can understand why they would be frightened of the angry working-class uprising, which I believe is why the government have created stricter laws on protests too.
The conservatives seem to find any way to quash, dissent and prevent unrest whilst they undermine many people’s quality of life. They do not want people fighting for higher wages in line with inflation, and they certainly do not want people inspiring others to do so through the arts. Instead, Boris has shown he wants to strong-arm the UK labour force into jobs that they no longer want. We have been given class aspiration and many young people have chosen art education and jobs in the culture sector, when under Margaret Thatcher’s government in the late 1970’s they would have been more likely to take up jobs in industrial professions, where I’m sure the conservative government think we belong.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. During the previous long conservative rule under Margaret Thatcher, some of the greatest artists and musicians emerged, as well as genres such as punk. It seems that with the growing movement of anarchists in this country this is likely to happen again. So, although there are more barriers, art will find a way and marginalised voices will be heard. Even if it is not through lofty institutions, people will still create art and culture.
The cultural sector has long been inaccessible and gatekept by the elite, with invisible labour literally swept under the carpet. However, there is hope.
Philip Westcott 'Time For A Snack'. Acrylic on A4 paper. Image courtesy of the artist. www.philipwestcott.co.uk
There are increasing unions in the cultural sector so that those working within the industry can remain and in good working conditions. For example, the ‘Justice for Cleaners’ campaign at Goldsmiths University in London was successful, leading to increased annual leave allowance and access to a better pension provision for every cleaner working there.
You might think that everyone is worse off when consumer price inflation rises, but it is not so. If you have financial assets, their worth is rising exponentially faster than the cost of consumables like food and utilities. This means the wealth gap becomes larger and larger, with those already marginalised being the hardest hit. The kind of assets that are increasing in value includes art, the art market being an incredibly exclusive and booming way for those already with money to secure themselves financially.
So, let's call this what it is becoming, a class war. ‘The cost-of-living crisis’ is a new a manufactured phenomenon to blame workers for the inequality caused by the neoliberalism that was peddled by Thatcher all those decades ago.
It stands to reason that those in the cultural sector should still be paid a living wage and that we need better job security if people are going to join the workforce again after the Covid-19 pandemic. The Employment Bill can help with that, but we also need to start distributing wealth better to make up for the gas crisis and food crisis; both of which, in this country at least, have very little to do with workers and much more to do with war and environmental crises around the world. Again, which have been caused by western governments choosing wealth over life.