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Equity ARC 2017: Class bias in theatre will lead to ‘industry of elites’

Equity's Annual Representative Conference passed a motion to ensure equal focus was given to socio-economic and class barriers as to other types of equality. Photo: Philip Hartley
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Social and economic mobility is to be given a renewed focus on Equity’s national agenda, with its equality and diversity officers taking the issue into their remit.

The move is in response to the “worrying” impacts of socio-economic bias on the make-up of the entertainment industry.

It follows concerns raised within the industry itself around class barriers to theatre professions, with a recent House of Lords inquiry concluding that theatre was still dominated by people from an affluent background.

The union’s Annual Representative Conference passed a motion to ensure the same focus was given to socio-economic and class barriers as to other types of equality such as ethnic, gender and disability.

Proposing the motion, Stephanie Greer, from the Liverpool and district general branch, said socio-economic bias was a “problem raised repeatedly” by members.

“It is commonplace for the big stars of our industry to be from wealthy backgrounds, but at a time when we should have bridged a gap between rich and poor I have seen it widen enormously. Given the current political climate, I have concerns this will only get worse,” she said.

“Young actors from Liverpool, for example, are struggling to afford to train, they face a prejudice when working professionally and have little in the way of role models, as those at the top of our profession are increasingly from a background far removed from a world these young people know.

“We are asking for equal focus to be given to helping all social backgrounds to be represented in our industry, with an emphasis on the financially disadvantaged members of our society.”

Fellow Liverpool branch member Martin Williams added: “We are worried that we are in danger of becoming an industry for elites and people who have a private income.”

David Cockayne, from the directors and designers committee, said that in the design profession, the problem had been present since the 1980s. However, he added: “We have been aware of this all this time, and it’s even worse now, especially in the north.”

As agreed by the conference, Equity’s equality and diversity officer role – shared between Hamida Ali and Jo Welch – will be extended formally into including social and economic mobility.

Ali said she welcomed the move, adding that it was encouraging that it had been brought forward by the membership.

“Historically across sectors, people struggle more with how to describe it and the language around it, but it is very clearly among the range of what is perceived to be equality and diversity issues,” she told The Stage.

Welch added that while Equity had already been looking at social and economic mobility within its equalities remit, the motion would enable it to link it up with other union work, such as low pay/no pay and geographical access.

“It’s about combining efforts and focusing more explicitly, so people understand what we’re doing and see what we’re doing across the board.

“It is still the case that, quite often, equality areas are still separated to some degree. But of course these things are interplaying all the time, and the intention is to raise it, make it visible and deal with it,” she said.

Full coverage of Equity ARC 2017

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