How diversity is under threat from Brexit


A no deal Brexit would be disastrous for music and the arts, with the end to freedom of movement limiting the opportunities of artists and putting diversity at risk, writes Alexandra Jarvis.

If diversity is part of the foundation a sector is built upon, it will shine. From better representation to a deeper understanding of different experiences, cultures and lives, its impact can’t be underestimated. Performative art tells stories and stories belong to everyone, regardless of background.

Practitioners have highlighted the need to promote diversity for many years. A report from Arts Council England in February this year details how the performing arts sector is under represented especially with regard to working class performers and BME (Black and minority ethnic) performers.

UK Music, the umbrella body representing the industry, says: “We must ensure we attract people into the industry from all walks of life and all backgrounds, and encourage them to progress through the ranks.

“Diversity is not an option for music. It is a necessity. UK Music is committed to helping music companies diversify and adopt fair and inclusive employment practices.”


The arts sector has carried out initiatives in efforts to become more representative. Arts Council England’s 2017-18 diversity report highlights that progress has been made, with an increase of 21% in BME individuals in the creative sector’s workforce, yet BME workers are currently just 12% of the workforce overall.

Freedom to travel

The ability to move freely across the EU has been incredible for the British creative sector, allowing people to build a portfolio of impressive experience. Cultural centres across Europe have allowed artists of all kinds to study, train and collaborate with their peers with ease.

In a post-Brexit world, British creatives will face new barriers once free movement ends, with diverse opportunities cut short. Singers or bands hoping to tour Europe will most likely face increased costs and red tape.

Meanwhile EU creatives will find the harsh restrictions on travel to and from Britain undoubtedly too pricey and complicated to go through on a regular basis.

This situation is dire for the creative community: European talent and influence is crucial to the sector’s heartbeat. Eager, talented Brits in the industry look set to miss out on European opportunities. Many fear this means an abrupt halt to progress. If creatives cannot work freely with other likeminded individuals, the British performing arts sector will suffer.

Skills gaps

Not only a worrying lack of diversity to contend with, the arts has a significant shortage of certain skills. The UK declared a shortage of highly skilled ballet and contemporary dancers, a gap that must be accessible to EU and other overseas talent if it is to be filled.

The Shortage Occupation List (SOL) is a list used by the Government to document which roles in the labour market are suffering from a lack of staff. Recruiting to fill these gaps is essential and cannot be done solely relying on homegrown talent. Once on the SOL, UK employers have more options as potential overseas applicants will be welcome to apply for roles and can be recruited accordingly.

The Migration Observatory Committee (MAC)  released a report in May looking at skills shortages across various industries. The MAC’s investigation separated arts’ roles into: “actors entertainers and presenters”, “dancers and choreographers”, “musicians” and “arts officers, producers and directors”. The conclusion of the report was that every category (except ‘actors, entertainers and presenters’) in the arts should be reflected on the SOL.

The future

The MAC’s recommendations would address the need for more diversity in the performing arts if it were not for the upcoming end to free movement.

If the UK leaves the European Union, particularly on a no-deal or hard-deal exit, the relative ease EU citizens can come to the UK to work indefinitely would cease. All EU migrants will be subject to the same visa regulations and costs as migrants from further afield. They will need to obtain a Work Visa if they choose to relocate to the UK, whether temporarily or permanently, and this is what makes the process expensive. If a prospective newcomer wishes to bring a spouse, children or apply for British citizenship, they are looking at costs of £3,000 or more to go through the long-winded application process. The incentive to come to the UK when other thriving European cities lay in wait and are more accessible will be almost non-existent.

The pessimistic reality is that the performing arts is already a sector full to the brim of white, British, middle class professionals. The death of free movement means the already dismal diversity levels are set to become even worse.

Research must be conducted, and workable solutions implemented, by the Government and local councils. Diversity in the arts benefits include cultural growth and providing the British public with a rich tapestry of entertainment. The sector generates £40 billion for the British economy annually. Risking the industry’s capacity for growth and development is risking the UK’s economy, culture and commitment to equality. There is no such thing as an isolated world leader: true leaders work with others, generating mutual support and opportunities. The Government must acknowledge and ensure this is the case going forward or watch as the UK is forced out of spotlight and into the shadows.

Alexandra Jarvis is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration solicitors which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.

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