Illustration by Nesta

United Kingdom’s Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre has published an extensive paper focusing on social mobility, entrenched inequality and class-based disadvantage in the creative sector. The report Social Mobility in the Creative Economy. Rebuilding and Levelling up? provides definitive evidence on the causes of class imbalances and sets out an ambitious and wide-ranging programme of change to enhance social mobility in creative roles.

Theory Editorial November 11, 2021

Creative industries are undoubtedly one of the most successful parts of the UK economy[1]. However, the sector is highly unequal — whether we look at class, gender, race or disability, there are deep divides within creative roles. To rebuild after the Coronavirus pandemic, many countries are focusing on high-growth, high-skill parts of the economy — sectors like the creative industries. This represents an opportunity to not only strengthen the economy as we emerge from an unprecedented crisis, but to also address the long-standing inequalities in the sector.


Although class-based inequality is a much more pronounced problem in the UK than in Latvia, here it’s ethnic minorities, a growing number of migrants, and people moving to Riga from the regions that experience barriers within the creative sector. The report Sustainable Development Strategy of Latvia until 2030[2] also emphasises the importance of creative industries in order to compete in the world economy and offers a set of recommendations aimed at the development of the creative sector. Since the recommendations also touch upon the integration of various social groups within the labour market of the creative sector, the report Social Mobility in the Creative Economy published by United Kingdom’s Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre can offer us valuable lessons and help develop the economy while decreasing social segregation and inequality.

Class imbalances in the creative industries

The class crisis in creative industries is worse than in other sectors and professional roles, finds the report. The class origin demographics of creative occupations such as architects, journalists and editors, musicians, artists, and producers and directors, are amongst the most elite in the economy, even more so than management consultants or stockbrokers. The growth of creative industries is also mostly benefitting the privileged, and the Covid-19 pandemic may make this worse. The latest labour market data suggests that those with access to financial reserves and networks will have been better placed to withstand the heightened insecurity, risk and competition for roles created by the pandemic. To combat this class imbalance, the report outlines a ten-point plan to enhance socio-economic diversity in the creative economy. The recommendations aim to diversify the creative workforce profile, thus increasing the size of the sector and speeding economic growth.

Early life experiences must establish fair foundations for success

Future success in the creative sector is heavily influenced by childhood experiences. Those from working-class backgrounds lack personal connections to those with knowledge of creative careers, and they are often discouraged from pursuing creative educational and occupational routes. Furthermore, these effects are most pronounced outside of urban centres. To widen access to culture within regions and to ensure that those from a disadvantaged socio-economic background have a fair chance at professional success in the creative sector, cultural education and local institutional infrastructure of creative learning centres and creative careers programmes must be supported and developed.

Unlocking the potential of education as the great leveller

A university degree from a prestigious institution remains the primary route into many creative industries. The cost of higher education, along with the need to relocate to attend specialist creative institutions acts as a considerable obstacle for those from low socio-economic backgrounds. Access to higher education needs to be widened, and technical routes into the industry should be opened, to deliver a valuable educational experience that prepares a wide range of students for future work in the creative sector.

Improving workplace culture in the creative sector

Low pay, job insecurity, unpaid internships and informal hiring act as a considerable barrier to those without reserves of financial and social capital. Even when they overcome barriers to entry, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds face further disadvantage when in work. Class-based exclusion can be subtle — judgements based on accents or banter about cultural knowledge — but it fosters a sense of otherness amongst those from working-class backgrounds. To address these issues, creative industries need to advance policies and business regulations that promote socio-economic diversity and lessen bad workplace practices.

Accelerating progression of diverse talent and promoting inclusive leadership of the creative industries

Those from working-class backgrounds face significant obstacles in their path to leadership positions. These include a lack of formal job structures and career pathways, the power of nepotism and networks to progress one’s career and more subtle issues grounded in the possession of the confidence to speak up and be heard. Creative entrepreneurship, in particular, is best described as a risky game. The stakes are high, pay-outs are rare, and the deck is stacked in favour of the privileged. Focus on new entrants into the creative sector and interventions that support progression of working-class talent into leadership positions are needed to ensure the next wave of creative leaders are much more diverse than those before them. This can be achieved through grants and leadership programmes, and through further research into the barriers that minority-led enterprises face.

Levelling up the creative economy

The story of unequal social mobility into creative industries is very much a spatial story of unequal places. The spatial concentration of the creative industries in urban centres impacts early-life access to culture and to specialist education. To develop social mobility within the creative sector, creative micro-clusters need to be developed outside of urban centres to provide creative opportunities to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Many of the aforementioned recommendations concern better targeting of interventions towards those from low socio-economic backgrounds. In order to target, we first need to measure. This creates strong foundations to establish explicit, ambitious, and attainable targets for enhancing socio-economic diversity and advancing social mobility within the creative sector.


The research paper Social Mobility in the Creative Economy is authored by Heather Carey, Dave O Brien and Olivia Gable with the support of Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre. The full report is available here.


[1] DCMS Sector (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Economic Estimates. Available here.
[2] Sustainable Development Strategy for Latvia 2030. Available here.