Despite a brief appearance by Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz, along with stage school kid Jessie J (whose claims that it’s not about the money are looking increasingly dubious), the vast array of music on offer was performed by middle aged, verging on geriatric, or in some cases dead relics from the past.
British music, which led the world from sixties boy bands, to punk, ska, the rave explosion, Brit Pop and the final emergence of a credible UK hip hop scene has started to look like it might finally have run out of ideas. One of the reasons for this may yet prove to be the draconian welfare regime for the young, which began under last Government and has been escalated by the current one.
When Tony Blair’s New Deal was launched – the first large scale workfare scheme – the music industry rose up in protest. Ably led by now defunct Creation Records, the label which could count Brit Pops giants like Oasis and Primal Scream on their books, the industry warned of the chilling effect on British creativity if young people were to be forced into endless workfare style schemes.
Blair had made much of ‘Cool Britannia’ and Brit Pop, famously inviting the Noel Gallagher to Number Ten shortly after his election win. Fearing his fake trendy image was under threat he hastily made concessions to his workfare plans and the ‘New Deal for Musicians’ was born. This scheme allowed young musicians to pursue a career in the music industry without the risk of being sent to work in a charity shop for no pay, or forced onto the notorious Environmental Task Force to dredge canals and pick up litter.
The rest of the New Deal collapsed as private sector parasites like A4e failed to find enough workfare placements for the hundreds of thousands of young people referred to the scheme. The New Deal for Musicians however did have some limited success with Brit award winning James Morrison and Mercury Prize nominees The Zutons just two examples of well known artists who emerged from the scheme.
Despite this the New Deal for Musicians was merged with the Flexible New Deal in 2009, and the Tories have now abandoned support for young musicians completely under the Work Programme. Instead young benefit claimants are forced onto endless workfare schemes, working 30 hours a week in charity shops and supermarkets. The impact on the ability of young, working class people to devote time to a career in music or the other creative industries will be unprecedented.
The list of musicians who cut their teeth whilst claiming benefits is impressive, including not just punk, hip hop, rave or rock icons, but even the likes of Tom Jones who was notorious for actively avoiding work according to his Jobcentre records.
It is somewhat ironic, that one of David Cameron’s pretend favourite bands, The Smiths, would very likely have never happened had Morrissey and Johnny Marr been sent to work in Tesco for no pay instead of pursuing a career in music.
Big British artists, whether Dizzee Rascal or the Rolling Stones, do not emerge in a vacuum. For every successful act there are many who don’t achieve the same level of fame, although many may end up working in other roles in the music industry.
There also exists an army of promoters, venue managers, DJs, small time band managers, fanzine writers and producers, all of whom have allowed the British music industry to prosper and many of whom have cut their teeth whilst claiming benefits. Without this wider support the more successful acts would never emerge. It took more than The Beatles to make The Beatles.
The festival industry, worth hundreds of millions and which draws visitors to the UK from around the world, emerged from a free festival scene in which many people were claiming benefits. Had this meagre financial support not been available then events such as Glastonbury Festival may never have been born.
Music is not the only art-form which has benefited from the Welfare State. Both Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst spent time on benefits. Elsewhere a struggling single mum on benefits was quietly creating the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter. Under this Government’s plans for single parents, JK Rowling would have been on workfare rather than creating some of the most successful characters in children’s literature in history.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport spent £7 billion in 2010/11, significantly more than the entire budget for Job Seeker’s Allowance which stood at £4.5 billion. Barely any of this money, if any at all, goes to grass roots working class musicians, one of the greatest sources of this country’s cultural heritage. Toff’s hobbies like the National Opera, or Oxbridge luvvies at the BBC, hoover up the bulk of the money. The benefits system, which some have dubbed the unofficial arts council, has delivered far more in both economic and artistic success then other state funded institutions could ever dream of.
It shows just how far propaganda aimed at eroding the welfare state has come that less than 15 years it was successfully argued that young, creative people deserve the support of the benefits system. Now we are fighting for people with serious disabilities or health conditions to receive the life saving support they need under what’s left of the Wefare State.
But we should not ignore the devastating effect on culture that the demolition of the Welfare State will bring. Some of the greatest British exports of the last 50 years started out as benefit scrounging scum. With young people to be forced into endless workfare if they are unable to find a job then a career in the music or other creative industries will become a preserve of only the rich. If you want a vision of the future of the British music industry imagine a posh kid singing Coldplay songs, forever.