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Tim Burgess pens letter to Rishi Sunak: “Other countries have found a way to protect their citizens who work in the arts world”

By | Published on Friday 9 October 2020

Tim Burgess

The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess has penned an article for The Guardian with one specific reader in mind – UK Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak. I’m not sure Sunak is likely to be a Guardian reader, but nonetheless, Burgess takes aim at his suggestion earlier this week that, because of COVID, musicians should start thinking about giving up on their dream and re-train for another job.

Sunak, of course, denies that he said any such thing. Although when asked by ITV News about what he was doing to financially support musicians and others in the arts who are unable to work because of COVID restrictions, he started talking about them “having to adapt” and pursue “new opportunities”. As Burgess notes: “He didn’t say it as bluntly as some soundbites put it. But yeah, it’s in there, isn’t it? He didn’t not say it”.

Burgess goes on to note that many musicians already have other jobs, saying: “We totally understand that everyone is facing hardship at the moment, but there was something offhand in Sunak’s words – people felt dismissed and undervalued”.

“What Sunak didn’t seem to take into account”, he adds “was that musicians and actors have been working other jobs for years – as baristas, chefs, roadies, graphic designers or bartenders, and in so many roles in the ironically named ‘gig’ economy – to fill the time between, well, gigs”.

“Live music was the final place where most bands could still earn enough to follow their dream”, he goes on. “And six months ago that disappeared, with no return in sight. An entire summer of music festivals cancelled, along with the worlds of standup comedy, West End theatres and touring shows – all gone”.

The concern now, he says, is that the pandemic will accelerate an issue that already concerned many – namely that the opportunity to pursue a career in the arts is increasingly skewed towards people from wealthier backgrounds, drowning out a diversity of voices.

“The worry is that the next generation of performers will come only from certain sections of society”, Burgess writes. “It felt as if the Chancellor was rebranding the arts sector as some sort of luxurious, decadent hobby, and now it was time for everyone to get their hands dirty – perhaps literally, as we are very short of people to pick fruit”.

He continues: “Other countries have found a way to protect their citizens who work in the arts world – and when we somehow get back to a version of normal, won’t it be the bands, the musicals and the plays that provide an escape? Just as books and [recorded] music have been a beacon of light in the darkness of lockdown”.

Noting that many MPs have lucrative second jobs, he suggests that perhaps “members of disbanded bands could be given MPs’ extracurricular occupations”. Of course, Sunak’s second job is being Chancellor, on top of being MP for Richmond (Yorks). Surely any musician with a calculator could have a good go at that? And it’s not like Sunak needs the second ministerial pay packet, given he can also draw from the trust fund he’s a beneficiary of.

As for other ways ministers could help musicians find these other jobs, well, a website launched by the government to help people identify new careers that they might want to move into has proven little help. It frequently suggests that music-makers shift over to other jobs elsewhere in the creative industries that are also light on income currently.

Read Burgess’s full letter to Sunak here