Author: So Mayor, Co-Founder of Raising Films
Before the pandemic, I think we were starting to have more open discussions about childcare, and how to make the workplace better for parents, and things were being implemented. I worry that this important work could be sidelined, because COVID has become the more urgent (immediate) problem. And it is, it has been difficult for productions to take it on board, and put in huge changes. But we have adapted. The industry has adapted very quickly and positively in a way that allows production to carry on. So it does make me think: if we are able to do that, in three or four months, where we can get productions up and running with COVID teams in place, with testing and extra staff employed for that purpose – why can’t we make those changes with childcare in the workplace?
‘Why can’t we make those changes with childcare in the workplace?’ As Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow (Lab) showed when she brought her sleeping baby into the debating chamber on 23 Nov, the words of Raising Films Ambassador, actor, writer and director Manjinder Virk resonate for many working parents. It’s the question that’s been at the heart of Raising Films’ work since 2015, when our team of five screen sector parent and carer co-founders emerged from shared frustrations that became offline and online conversations with a determination to take action. Via a crowdfunder, Raising Films became a campaign and community for parents and carers in the screen industries with a solutions-oriented remit that centres our community’s stories. From individual interviews and testimonials to large-scale quantitative and qualitative research, all freely available from our website, we demonstrate that our community already has the experience and know-how to make the screen industries a workplace that includes parents and carers.
Our report, ‘How We Work Now: Learning from the Impact of COVID-19 to Build An Industry that Works for Parents and Carers’ shared the experiences of nearly 500 parents and carers who took the time to complete our survey, which was open May-July 2021, a crucial moment in which some aspects of life were re-opening for some workers and families across the UK, but unevenly. And unevenly is absolutely what we heard from the responses, with 63% of respondents saying that they might not return to work in the industry as it was ‘too stressful’ to combine with parenting and/or caring. Reading the survey responses and writing the report, we were constantly and importantly reminded that caregiving is work, work that is undervalued. We were struck by the care that our respondents put into their answers, into sharing solutions and ambitions as well as struggles and barriers.
There were some clear headlines that resonated with our earlier research in ‘Making It Possible’ (2016), the first ever survey of parents and carers in the UK screen industries, and our follow up ‘We Need to Talk About Caring’ (2018), designed in collaboration with Carers UK to look specifically at the experience of carers. Primary carers are still predominantly women, and the unequal, gendered nature of caregiving labour was exacerbated and made more visible by the huge impact of home-schooling during lockdowns – with knock-on effects that make it harder for women to return to the workplace. As Virk notes, Raising Films and others had begun to open up these discussions, generating returnship schemes such as that created by Nahrein Kemp for Film London, as profiled alongside other examples of good practice in our audit of screen sector employment, ‘Raising Our Game’ (2017), written by Dr. Tamsyn Dent. But while caregiving became more visible – and more necessary – during the pandemic, there has been little compensatory thinking about the unequal return to work.
Even lockdown pivots seen as levelling the playing field, such as remote working, were not the blanket solutions they appeared, as our survey respondents told us. While respondents, especially those outside London and the South-east, and Edinburgh and Glasgow, were keen to maintain digital access to training, networking, meeting and collaborating without travel to urban hubs, others noted the lack of tech and childcare support, and the lack of flexibility in expectations, especially for freelancers, which added to the impact of maternity leave on limiting access to the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
In fact, one clear headline across our research is that the creative and cultural industries exemplify the changing model of work: the gap between the self-employed (a complex term, as shown by the millions excluded from SEISS) and employees. According to ScreenSkills, screen sector workers are twice as likely to be freelance as in other employment sectors; our research shows that – due to a lack of flexible working in screen sector employment – parents and carers are twice as likely again to be freelancers, with the attendant job and financial insecurity and lack of access to in-work support. As ‘How We Work Now’ also showed, this may come with additional complexities around government benefits such as Universal Credit, childcare vouchers and free school meals, complexities that are unrecognised by screen sector hiring and pay structures, as well as funding. In-work poverty and socio-economic precarity, which are often interlinked to other protected characteristics (our report indicated a strong link with disability, for example), are a hard barrier to entering or continuing work in the screen industries, a central structural and systemic issue that needs to be addressed.
Informed by the stories our respondents told, and by our own research into employment and contracting in the screen sector, which are all too often ad hoc and in contravention of employment law and the Equality Act, we created a guide to How to Hire and Contract. With an emphasis on transparency and engagement, it is full of practical actions to achieve the positive outcome of an inclusive and sustainable industry: crucial at a moment of skills shortages in UK production.
We know that, as a community and as campaigners concerned with the hard barriers to equal participation in the creative and cultural industries, we are not alone. Our research involved conversations with dozens of allied projects and organisations across the creative and cultural industries, including Fair Museums Work, Film Access Scotland, Film Buddy, Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts, the Producers Roundtable, and The Uncultured, and we drew on the research and actions of others such as Pregnant then Screwed and We Shall Not Be Removed. As the Raising Films co-founders wrote in our introduction:
We are here to forge a coalition of care alongside those organisations who are committed to changing our screen industries. As the cry for better working practices becomes louder, we understand that the fight must be taken beyond our industry, into legislation that will force employers to enact these better practices. We are here with you. We are not done. This is how we work now. In solidarity.
Credit line: On set for WITH LOVE FROM CALAIS; Annemarie Lean-Vercoe on camera, Manjinder directing her daughter, Lyla.