New research into class diversity in the Screen Industries shows that in 2020 over half of people working in the UK’s Screen Industries were from privileged backgrounds (53%), compared to 38% of people working in any role.

In contrast, people from working-class backgrounds are significantly under-represented in UK Screen, with only one in four of the Screen workforce from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to 38% of people across the economy.

The study was undertaken by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) and supported by ScreenSkills with National Lottery funds awarded by the British Film Institute (BFI). It highlights that these class imbalances are particularly pronounced in creative roles, including Writers, Producers, Arts Officers, and Directors. 61% of people in these roles come from privileged backgrounds, making it amongst the most elite occupations in the Creative Industries, or the wider economy.

The study finds 12 points at which people from a working-class background are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to entering and progressing in the screen sector. These include:

  • Early in life: unequal access to culture, disparities in participation and achievement in cultural education, and a lack of visible role models mean the Screen Industries lose talented young people.
  • In post-16 education: unequal access to higher education, flawed technical pathways, and a systemic failure to equip all learners with confidence and soft skills.
  • Entering work: lacking networks and industry connections, people face challenges to secure career opportunities. The pay and precarity of the work means it’s difficult for anyone without financial backing to sustain a career.
  • When in work: interviewees described how their background or accent marked them as ‘different’. Connections were found to be crucial, ranging from the importance of the school or university someone attended, through to those from more privileged backgrounds benefitting from the support of sponsors that ‘fast-track’ their path to success.

Using the findings as a prompt for change, the PEC is calling on the Screen Industries to take on the diversity and inclusion priorities that the study highlights.

These include agreeing an industry-wide approach to measurement and targets for socio-economic diversity. It calls for more leaders of industry to work collaboratively on this agenda, along with additional information and resources for businesses. The research also emphasises the need to attract and advance diverse talent, through stronger targeting of careers activities towards social mobility ‘coldspots’, to widen access to higher education, and strengthen technical education pathways into the industry.

It also highlights the need to invest in interventions that support progression for diverse future leaders, as well as place-based approaches to promote equality, diversity and inclusive growth of creative clusters across the UK. Subsequent phases of the PEC’s Class in the Creative Industries programme will seek to work with industry to enact sustained change.

Heather Carey, from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and Work Advance, said: “The Screen Industries are a vital and vibrant part of the UK economy, but class-based exclusion is persistent and pronounced. The research we release today – demonstrates how those from a working-class background face profound disadvantages relative to their privileged counterparts. We find these start early in life; continue further into education; inhibit transition to work; and undermine opportunity for progression and advancement throughout one’s career in UK Screen. Socio-economic diversity must, therefore, be an important priority for the Screen Industries, alongside addressing inequality linked to gender, race and disability. Significant action is needed, and Screen businesses – large and small – need to take the lead. The PEC will continue to work with industry stakeholders to build a more inclusive sector – unlocking the potential of the screen, and wider creative industries to support ‘levelling up’ of the UK economy and promote shared prosperity.”

Seetha Kumar, CEO of ScreenSkills, said: “This study underlines how much needs to be done. We want to collaborate with colleagues in the sector on practical ways to unblock the barriers to people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds getting into UK screen and progressing including supporting employers to introduce fairer recruitment and genuinely inclusive working practices. It is important that we share best practice and lessons learned. This is the only way to ensure that real progress is made and everyone can contribute to the success of the screen industries, no matter what their background.”

Jon Creamer