Parliamentary committee calls for creative industries “freelance commissioner”

A recommendation to improve equity is one of several set out in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity.

The government should appoint a freelance commissioner if it is serious about promoting and supporting diversity in the creative industries, according to a new report.

The recommendation to government is one of several set out in a new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Creative Diversity, which was launched yesterday. Findings detailed in the report come after 18 months of research, conducted jointly by the APPG, King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh.

Labour MP Chi Onwurah speaking at Parliament yesterday where the report was launched

The job of a freelance commissioner

An appointed freelance commissioner would ensure that resources are “distributed more equally”, according to the report.

The nature of creative industry work means “project-based” workers – otherwise known as freelancers – are common, it says. And as the pandemic has shown, freelancers within the creative industry require additional support to thrive.

But the precarity of this type of work, as well as a lack of support in the form of things like parental leave and sick pay serves to “intensify inequalities”, it continues. The report finds BAME, LGBTQ+, women, working class and other marginalised workers are “disproportionately affected”.

As well as providing access to support, the parliamentary group suggest that one of the primary ambitions of a freelance commissioner should be to “improve national data collection on types and structures of self-employment”.

A responsibility for businesses

Beyond policy recommendations for government, the report also suggests how businesses and organisations can work to improve diversity in their own environments. In the case of freelancers, the creation and funding of freelancer networks and groups is advised.

As per the report’s “What Works” approach – which looks at how individual successful interventions could be replicated on a larger scale – it includes the example of Frozen Light charity and theatre company.

Its successful action towards creative diversity included making space for a freelancer to sit on its board, to ensure they have a role in decision making.

A main aim of the advice is to refrain from promoting a “Billy Elliot” narrative, as Baroness Deborah Bull, co-chair of the APPG explained at yesterday’s launch. She explained that while the idea that hard work and persistence pays off is appealing, the reality is that the creative industry is stacked against marginalised workers and as such work should be done to change this.

Baroness Deborah Bull speaking at Parliament to launch the report

Behavioural design as a solution to increasing diversity

Support for freelancers is just one suggestion of many. Other suggestions include flexible work solutions, something Design Week covered earlier this year. Behavioural design is also mentioned as a potentially effective way to interrogate hiring practices.

“How an individual is employed, recruited, commissioned, or funded is informed by a series of choices… who conducts the interview and where it takes place; or what criteria are used to make the final selection…can be used to make informed changes to existing processes and challenge assumptions and habits,” according to the report.

Avoiding a generic tick list

The findings of the APPG are largely grouped into the “five As”: ambition, allyship, accessibility, adaptability and accountability.

These five guiding principles are designed to act as a benchmark “for anyone wanting to see results in EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion)”. However APPG co-chairs Baroness Deborah Bull and Labour MP Chi Onwurah stress that they are not a tick list.

“The sheer range of sectors and types of organisation within the creative industries, from individual visual artists or design micro-businesses, through national theatres and galleries, to global film, gaming, TV, and publishing companies, means having a single approach to supporting diversity, even when grounded in the academic literature, is impossible,” according to APPG.

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