HOW IS THE CLASS GAP AFFECTING AUDIO AND PODCASTING PROFESSIONALS?

Jul 03rd

The amount of people working in film, TV and radio who are from working class backgrounds is at its lowest level for a decade. In the first of a short series of articles, Francesca Turauskis takes a look at the class gap and how it affects audio and podcasting professionals from working class backgrounds.

Earlier this year, the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (Creative PEC) released a ‘Arts, Culture and Heritage: Audiences and Workforce’, a new report using data from the 2021 census to provide a comprehensive insight to the arts, culture and heritage workforce.

The report found that less than 10% of people who work in film, TV and radio are from working class backgrounds, when 38% of the general population would fall in that category. Sometimes referred to as ‘the class gap’ or ‘the class ceiling’, this statistic inspired us to explore what it’s like for working class audio professionals and podcasters, so we decided to create a short survey.

I shared the survey in UKAN and on LinkedIn, and as I write this, we’ve had 40 responses in a week. This is not a big enough sample for a full insight to the problems, but there are still clear similarities in the difficulties that working class individuals face when working in audio.

This is not intended as a full survey or analysis, but as an anecdotal starting point for future conversations. Here are some of the main points that deserve more discussion.

THE UNDERREPRESENTATION NEEDS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED MORE

The first thing of note is that more than one response said “thank you for asking”. We know that there is some acknowledgement at policy level of the socio-economic gap – for example, the BBC measures data and has aims to increase economic diversity, and Audio UK mentions socio-economic background in their statement on diversity and inclusion.

However, it certainly appears that at the level of conversations and initiatives addressing underrepresentation in the industry, women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities are specified but class or socio-economics rarely is.

Statistically, there is an intersection between these identities and being working class, so initiatives for one demographic could reach some working class creatives, but would fail to address other aspects of working class experiences.

DEFINING THE PROBLEM

There is a question over how to define ‘working class’ in modern Britain, and different places use different definitions. I asked people how they identify as working class, and people answering our survey could choose multiple definitions. My choices were based on definitions from The Social Mobility Commission, RECLAIM and Keir Starmer’s recent attempt to define ‘the working person’. Meanwhile, the BBC asks for the occupation of people’s parents (criterion set out by the Government/Bridge Group and Social Mobility group). Creative PEC used The National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (a note, I did not have this option on our survey because it is more complicated to define accurately.)

Self-identification is one way to define working class, but when people are asked to self-identify as working-class, there is often a misalignment with these definitions. Indeed most people in the UK identify as working class, and there is evidence to suggest that people may downplay their privilege in this respect.

This ambiguity over ‘working class’ backgrounds could be part of the reason the problem of underrepresentation is not being addressed.

LACK OF FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND INCENTIVE

Money was one of the most common barriers highlighted. One person trying to enter the industry said that “Most of the barriers I’ve faced have been financial. I have missed out on too many opportunities, for example because the pay is extremely poor or a job requires an advanced and expensive kit.”

It’s not just entry level that finance is an issue – many people said that industry wages are just too low. One person points out “TV and film don’t pay as poorly as radio, often for less responsibility. We need honest conversations about day rates, not people gasping at the idea of paying more than £400.” Another person suggested that “The idea that it’s a privilege to work in audio has created a low wage industry in comparison to other industries which require similar dedication, skill and hours.”

This problem with finance was reflected across class as well. One person said “I am not working class, but I identify as currently living off of the last of my savings as I try to enter the audio industry as a producer”.

PREJUDICE

Financial insecurity might not be a unique working class issue, but unfortunately it appears that there is prejudice of working class individuals. “This might be my imagination, but I sometimes feel senior producers/audio producer execs/commissioning editors ‘sniffing me out’ and identifying me as from a working class northern background – even though I’m well over 50 yrs old now.”

Accents were mentioned quite a lot, and one person said “I also think that accent snobbery is huge, especially when you are getting beyond middle management.” Accent snobbery is something we have seen since the early days of radio – the BBC first allowed a Northern accent onto the air waves in 1941, and apparently some listeners were less likely to believe the news when Yorkshireman Wilfred Pickles was reading.

LACK OF REGIONAL OR REMOTE JOBS

Regional opportunities as something we spoke about with Aradhna Tayal Leach. One response suggested that “More companies need to offer remote freelance work i.e. audio editing or guest research rather than offering London studio shifts which are only beneficial to either the wealthy or those already living in London.” Another person stated that “The industry as a whole HAS to get better at supporting individuals outside of London and other major cities. The rural working class are completely cut off from access events”.

Of course working class people exist in London and cities – according to the Creative PEC report, most of the working class creatives are London-based. However, individuals from working class backgrounds are statistically less likely to relocate from their hometowns so the concentration of work and opportunities is limiting.

SOCIAL CURRENCY

The most common definition of working class chosen in our survey was ‘I don’t have many family connections to people with well paid, professional or powerful jobs’ (taken from RECLAIM definition) and this was highlighted a lot. One person said “it feels like unless you have significant personal connections or contacts then it is hard to get opportunities” whilst another said “It became very obvious when I worked at the BBC (mainly radio) and Sky News that the people who went to good schools and good universities did well. I hope that’s changed now.”

This social currency does seem to cross class slightly – one person said “my grandparents and parents were refugees… we’re not working class, but we are also not stereotypical UK middle class either. They and I certainly did not benefit from the networking and socialising that so many of my peers did.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

We’ll be looking deeper into this issue and looking for some solutions. Some of the asks from the Equality in Audio Pact – for example, not doing unpaid internships – directly help across demographics.

One worrying statistic from our mini survey was that regardless of class, almost two-thirds of the respondents said they are considering leaving audio ‘seriously’ or ‘in passing’. It’s already clear that addressing these problems, and making audio and podcasting more sustainable, will benefit many people within the industry.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill in our survey, and give your anecdotes to this discussion.