Breaking the class ceiling for writers

This week, members of the WGGB were at the House of Commons for an evidence session focusing specifically on the issues of writers. The cross-party panel listening to the evidence included WGGB member Tracy Brabin MP, Giles Watling MP and Nicholas Trench, Earl of Clancarty, who, before their work in politics, had all been involved in the creative arts industry.

The session heard evidence on a range of practices making it difficult for writers and practical ways in which these burdens could be lessened. Mark Heholt, Head of Policy at ScreenSkills, emphasised the importance of the statistical reporting on these issues stating that “what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done”.

Evidence was also given on how the current apprenticeship levy design is not a viable option for the industry and therefore there are, for example, no screenwriting apprenticeships in the UK.

During the session Prof Katy Shaw, of Northumbria University, discussed the London-centric nature of the industry being a further barrier for emerging writers outside London. Shaw stated that, in part, “decentralising the industry has been a hugely beneficial model” and that

Lisa Holdsworth
Lisa Holdsworth (Photo: Emily Goldie)

“culture is an active component of regeneration” in these areas.

A story that was heard throughout the evidence session was writer’s entry route into the profession being a “fluke” achieved through informal contacts. Screenwriter and WGGB deputy co-chair Lisa Holdsworth (right) echoed this, stating that it is so often the case that writers say, “I was lucky enough to meet this person”, in order to kickstart their career.

Holdsworth expressed that these chance interactions, that have often led to work for writers, are harder to come by for working-class writers as you are less likely to be in a room where these types of opportunities are being offered.

One significant barrier that relates to working as a freelance writer that was spoken about was having fluctuating income, which makes it difficult to forge a financially sustainable career, more so when production companies do not pay writers in a timely fashion. Witnesses stated that if production companies were to pay outstanding fees within a calendar month, for example, it would allow writers the financial stability to continue with their career.

As well as Lisa Holdsworth, we would like to thank other witnesses: Anne Edyvean (BBC Writers Room), Mark Heholt, (Head of Policy, ScreenSkills), Prof Katy Shaw (Northumbria University) and Claire Malcolm, (New Writing North).

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Photo of WGGB witnesses at Westminster Palace: Dr Dave O’Brien