Rishi Sunak tells theatre workers close to quitting arts: ‘I know it’s hard’

Government has received heavy criticism for its response to the struggles the arts have faced during the pandemic

Roisin O'Connor
Sunday 15 August 2021 09:25 BST
Festival goers enjoy being back in the mosh pit at Download Festival pilot

Rishi Sunak has said he sympathises with arts workers who feel close to quitting the industry for good, after almost two years without regular work.

The chancellor of the exchequer gave an interview toThe Sunday Timeswhere he discussed the effects of the pandemic on the creative industries.

At one point, journalist Josh Glancy told Sunak that he had friends working in theatre who are “pretty close to giving up, after two years of effective unemployment. What would he say to them?”

“I’d say, ‘Gosh I have nothing but unbelievable admiration for you,” Sunak responded. “Stick with it. I know it’s hard, but we will be back watching you before you know it, and you will be bringing joy to so many people’s lives. Don’t give up now. We are behind you.”

The government has received heavy criticism for its response to the struggles the arts have faced during the pandemic.

Hundreds of prominent figures, including Elton John, Damon Albarn, Liam Gallagher, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Anish Kapoor, Rufus Wainwright and Jonathan Pryce, have been warning of the effects a lack of support could have on the creative industries.

In March this year, Sunak announced £408m to help museums, theatres and galleries in England reopen ahead of lockdown restrictions lifting.

Earlier this month, he also announced the long-awaited Covid cancellation insurance scheme for the embattled live events sector, including music festivals, after more than a year of campaigning from industry figures.

Many experts said the insurance scheme was “too late”, after several festivals were forced to cancel earlier this year amid ongoing uncertainty or a lack of time to properly organise their events.

“We can choose to look at things as glass half-full, or we can choose to look at them half-empty,” Sunak said in response to the criticism.

“Let’s remind ourselves where we were a few months ago and think how far we’ve come: you can go to a cinema, you can go to events. There’s lots of stuff happening.

“I know there are people who haven’t felt they’ve been able to be helped in the way they’d have liked throughout this. And I appreciate that. I’m sorry we couldn’t do everything people wanted us to do. I think we’ve done a lot. We’ve tried to do everything we can.”

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