Culture Club: Social mobility in the creative and cultural industries


London is undoubtedly one of the world’s principal cities of culture, if not the world’s cultural capital – a place with leading creative talent in music, art, design, fashion, theatre and film. The Arts have been portrayed as one of the greatest forces for openness and social mobility;  1 and the creative industries have been described as – possibly more than any others – having their origins in individual characteristics, skills and talent 2

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that access to this cultural realm is denied to too many in the city – particularly in terms of employment and the production of cultural assets. Evidence suggests that certain groups of young people are not able to break into these industries, or build long-term careers within them.

The Mayor of London has made culture one of his priorities, and wants to ensure that the creative workforce is more reflective of the city and inclusive of all Londoners. 3 As the creative and cultural industries is the most successful sector within London’s economy– and among the most resilient to automation – there is a strong argument for broadening access to and mobility within this sector, for  Londoners outside the groups presently dominant. This is an issue of equity, but also of sectoral success: failing to make the most of London’s diverse talent will weaken the city’s creative output.

In too many ways, entering into and progressing within London’s creative and cultural industries relies on possessing the social, economic and cultural capital that is more easily accumulated by privileged classes and groups, rather than simply being a question of talent and merit.

This report aims to complement and expand on existing research on representation in the creative and cultural industries – by both adopting a London angle (though many findings will ring true for the rest of the UK) and also considering barriers from the perspective of underrepresented young people themselves. To do so, we held three focus groups with young people and sought views from educational institutions and employers at roundtable discussions and through interviews.

What are the creative and cultural industries?

Defining the creative and cultural industries is complex, and can encompass everything from advertising to architecture, and from software design to theatre (see Appendix 1). In this report, we focus on four sub-sectors within the creative and cultural industries – namely design, fashion and crafts; museums and galleries; music, performing and visual arts; and film, TV, radio and photography. However, we sometimes refer to data on the creative and/or cultural industries as a whole in the absence of more granular data.

The report looks at overall patterns of employment in the sector on the basis of social class, gender and ethnicity. 4 It reviews the experience and views of young people, educators and practitioners, using possession of economic, social and cultural capital as an analytical framework. It then makes recommendations to City Hall, employers and educational institutions to tackle the underrepresentation of these groups within the cultural workforce. These aim to ensure that young people from all backgrounds can access cultural and creative courses and job opportunities in London – regardless of gender, ethnicity or social class.

  • 1 Hancock, M. (2016, November 18). Arts are one of the greatest forces for openness and social mobility. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: mobi/
  • 2 Department for Culture, Media and Sport (1998). Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy. Retrieved from:
  • 3 Mayor of London (2018). Culture for all Londoners: Mayor of London’s Draft Culture Strategy. London: Greater London Authority.
  • 4 The terms “race” and “ethnicity” have been used interchangeably in the literature when looking at underrepresentation within the creative and cultural industries, with the former referring to physical characteristics of a group and the latter referring to a group which identify through a common heritage, language and culture (Institute of Race Relations, retrieved from research/statistics/definitions/). This report will use the term “ethnicity” when referring to Black Asian Minority Ethnic Groups in the UK (BAME).