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Stop using austerity as an excuse for paying low wages, Equity tells theatres

Equity official Paul Fleming. Photo: Phil Adams Equity official Paul Fleming. Photo: Phil Adams
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Theatre must stop using austerity as an excuse for low wages, Equity official Paul Fleming has said.

The union’s organiser in the live performance department also called on local authorities to require cultural institutions with money, such as broadcasters or independent television, to be made to “stump up more to provide people with the ability to live and work in the arts”.

He was speaking on a panel about the future of the arts in London as part of a seminar at Glaziers Hall organised by Policy Forum for London.

He said: “The arts needs to stop being an apologist for a culture of austerity.

“There are an awful lot of cultural institutions in the country who have said: ‘We need to bear our share with good grace.’ They’ve turned round and said to me and our members: ‘Actually we can’t put your salary up because we’ve suffered under a series of government cuts.'”

Fleming argued that audiences also needed to be made aware of the effect of political choices made by the government.

He added: “They need to understand they cannot continue to accept high quality, diverse and intellectually interesting culture on any scale, unless it is adequately funded.

“That is the only way to try to deal with low salaries.”

The union official said there needed to be more discussion around class in the sector – arguing that some areas of the industry, such as musical theatre, were more accessible than others for people from working-class backgrounds.

However, he claimed that while some areas might be more accessible at entry level, a worker’s class will often “catch up with them” further down the line. He argued that the arts gives people “the social and cultural capital to advance their class” but does not provide them with enough money to allow them to sustain a career long-term.

“And when they want to marry somebody who also works in the arts, one of them has got to give it up, and by and large it is of course the woman,” he added.

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