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Who can afford a future in the arts and humanities?

Young Talent Fisola reflects on the cost of living crisis and the pressure to find a profitable career.

There is no facet of life that has not been affected by the increasing living costs. Energy bills have risen by £693 per year from April and food costs are growing rapidly with 7% inflation. These changes coupled with the stagnation of wages is making it more difficult for people to gather the means to survive. Doing my weekly shop at university reminds me that prices are gradually hiking up. It is predicted that groceries will be £180 more annually compared to 2021. With over 75,000 18-24 years olds not in employment, this tense economy is making it difficult for young people to navigate. University can feel like a bubble but after it is done, the ‘real’ world is outside waiting and there is brimming anxiety for people like me trying to pursue careers in the arts and humanities.

Work in the arts and humanities is often freelance and low paid, even unpaid. There is already instability from being a novice in the creative industries but external pressures, especially financial pressure exacerbated by increasing living costs, amplify this. The arts industry has not received much support from the government as it is not seen as a priority but this is jeopardising people’s ability to enter the industry.

I have personally felt a pressure to make sure whatever career I go into is profitable due to how expensive it is to live in London. I am currently a BA English student with plans to be a playwright. Many people have not even taken the route of university to enter this sector and are still facing the same issues as me. It is a big burden to carry as a young person crafting your future. Increasing living costs is ultimately a class problem. People from lower socio-economic backgrounds live with the fear of staying in the cycle of generational poverty if their career is not able to withstand a turbulent economic climate. This is also largely people from ethnic minorities. An arts industry that is inaccessible to such people is dangerous as it excludes crucial voices we need to hear from.

In the back of my mind I am always thinking ‘I must make my parent’s sacrifices worth it.’

These fears can undoubtedly compromise young people’s mental health and create unhealthy work patterns, with people working multiple jobs to fund their creative passions. I am leaving university in a year and wonder - will I be able to pursue a creative career and afford to live?

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure creative careers are resilient in our economy by establishing training in the arts and humanities as an option from early on in school. It's also important to fund creative careers and support arts charities like Arts Emergency and Creative Access. The question ‘how can we make our economy more compatible with people who want to pursue a career in the arts and humanities?’ remains and it is important that everyone puts in an effort to answer it.

Fisola Kelly-Akinnuoye is a BA English student at the University of Birmingham. She works across mediums including theatre, poetry, and prose. Her writing reflects on identity, race, gender, and mental health.