Creative Lives

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A collaborative platform for artists of all ages

Age discrimination in the UK is an important yet largely overlooked issue that urgently needs addressing. As a recent APPG (All-Parliamentary Group) for Ageing and Older People [2019] report indicates: ‘Older people frequently experience discriminatory treatment that can dramatically affect their wellbeing, confidence, job prospects, financial and quality of life’. Ageism manifests in all aspects of society, including housing, health care and employment. As the Women & Equalities Committee report Older People and Employment puts it: ‘ageism remains a significant problem within British society and is affecting the ability of people to continuing working into later life’. Statistics show that 36% of over 50s claim to have been disadvantaged at work because of their age, and 29% do not think their workplace values older people (Age UK 2018; Centre for Ageing Better 2018). Over a million people in the UK over the age of 50 would like to work but are unable to do so because of age discrimination (Women & Equalities Committee 2018). This is a particularly pressing problem given current government predictions that 50% of all adults in the UK will be over 50 years of age by the mid-2030s (Ibid 2018).

This problem is felt acutely by those navigating an intersection of discriminatory systems. For example, Ageing Equal (2018) notes ‘when it comes to employment, older people typically face difficulties in finding a job…but the situation is particularly difficult for older people of colour and the Roma population’.  And Catalyst (2019) argues that ‘ageism hits women earlier and harder’, as ‘older women face marginalisation based on “lookism” or gendered youthful beauty standards in addition to the unfounded societal biases that older employees are less innovative, adaptive and generally less qualified’. Coupled with ableism and classism, which disproportionately impact older people, it is clear that ageism in employment is a ‘multidimensional and intersectional’ issue (World Economic Forum 2020).

Ageism and intersecting systems of discrimination pervade the arts industry. As the following report shows, from negative attitudes and stereotypes perpetuated by media, curators, funders, art schools and organisations, to age barriers on calls for work, to the inaccessibility of networks, to the failure of commissions to accommodate other life commitments, older artists are discriminated against at every turn. COVID-19 and government responses to it have exacerbated ageism in the UK (World Economic Forum 2020). The pandemic has also hit the UK arts and entertainment sector particularly hard. This sector ‘has been one of the areas worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The decline in revenues and the number of workers furloughed over the past few months is second only to the accommodation and food sector’ (Lords Library 2020). This is an alarming combination of factors facing older artists in the creative professions and requires a comprehensive response in return.

It is for this reason that the Creative Lives network brought together a range of researchers, arts organisations and older artists to share their insights on ageism. The report that follows is a culmination of conversations that took place across two symposia in 2020. It outlines the legal context of ageism in the UK, summarises the key issues identified by the Creative Lives network and presents some recommendations for implementing substantial, long-term changes that positively transform the creative professions and ultimately older people’s lives.

The Creative Lives research network and platform is based at The University of Sheffield.

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