Over the years, the UK has been known as a power in the world for culture. We’ve produced some of the world’s best known musicians, something we celebrated in the Closing Ceremony of our Olympic Games in 2012. The UK is home to, or has produced, some of the world’s most celebrated authors, artists and actors the world has ever seen. We’ve produced thousands of people who have significant influence in the world of culture, yet within our own borders, culture is under attack, in every form.
One such example of this can be found in libraries.
Earlier this year a report from the BBC said that over the last six years, 343 libraries in the UK have disappeared, taking with them around 8,000 jobs. In the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sports contended that 'Government is helping libraries to modernise by funding a Wi-Fi roll-out across England that has benefitted more than 1,000 libraries and increasing access to digital services and e-lending'.
Libraries have a duty to reach everyone in society. The Reading Agency reports that, based on data from 2014-2015, library usage by people in higher socio-economic groups was higher than those in lower socio-economic groups. Libraries were used more by those out of work than those in work. Adults who had no limiting disability had lower library usage than those who didn’t.
We need an accessible library service nationally that provides for everyone. A library service with trained librarians and a wide variety of books. We need mobile libraries and we need new services from our libraries to ensure that they are offered and accessible to those who may be unable to get to libraries themselves.
Frankly, you’re not going to get that from free Wi-Fi.
In 2012, The Guardian reported that Arts Council England had taken an £11.6million cut to its budget. The Arts Council is a vital institution that provides funding to cultural projects up and down England. That stretches over every form of arts you can think of: museums, libraries, digital art. It’s no surprise that theatres have had to raise ticket prices by 5% in order to meet funding costs last year.
Largely the same is happening to the Arts Council equivalents in the devolved areas of the UK, with the Northern Ireland Arts Council budget being hit by a half a million pound cut this year too, for example.
But it’s not just culture in its visible street form that’s being attacked. Cultural industries make up around 5% of Britain’s economy, yet there has been a significant drop in the number of students taking arts subjects at GCSE.
It is time that we began promoting the arts again. I completely accept that STEM subjects are important and in order to progress in certain fields we need people to be interested in these subjects. But, if people are interested in culture, then we need to make sure it’s available and accessible to them too.
When culture makes up around 5% of the British economy, we simply can’t afford to ignore it.
I’m asking the new Government to commit themselves to British culture. I’m asking you to commit to ensuring that culture is accessible wherever you are and whoever you are. Yes, we can do this through more funding, but there is definitely a lot to be done.