What did Rishi Sunak actually say about people in the arts?

7th Oct 2020

Claims that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said musicians and other people in the arts sector “should retrain and find other jobs” went viral this week. This claim came from an interview Mr Sunak gave to ITV News on Tuesday 6 October, after which the ITV News Politics account tweeted “@RishiSunak suggests musicians and others in the arts should retrain and find other jobs”, and this claim was reflected in the headline of the story.

This claim—and the reactions of those working in creative fields such as TV presenter Sue Perkins, author Ian Rankin and actor Daniel Mays—were picked up by several media outlets, including The Independent, Mail Online, The Mirror, NME and The Huffington Post. The comments were also criticised by Welsh Labour MP Kevin Brennan in the House of Commons and raised by Welsh Labour MP Chris Elmore during Prime Minister’s Questions on 7 October.

However, ITV has since deleted its original tweet and changed its article “to reflect that the Chancellor's comments were about employment generally and not specifically about the music or arts sectors.” The headline now reads: “Rishi Sunak says people in 'all walks of life' are having to adapt for employment”.

Following that update, Mr Sunak wrote on Twitter: “An earlier @itvnewspolitics tweet falsely suggested I thought people in arts should retrain and find other jobs. I'm grateful they have now deleted that tweet.”

There is still some confusion about what Mr Sunak actually said to ITV, and whether it was correct to paraphrase his comments in the way it did. Full Fact has transcribed the interview below so readers can judge for themselves. The interview can be watched on the ITV website.

Q: You want to save as many jobs as possible but you can’t save every job. It appears that in some sectors you’re not trying very hard. For musicians, actors, directors, freelancers in the arts, they say you’ve not helped them at all. Where is the help for those businesses, for those jobs, for those people in these industries who simply can’t work?

Rishi Sunak: So in the cultural sector a few months ago we outlined a £1.5 billion cultural recovery programme. That money is now getting out the door, it’s being administered by the Arts Council and other bodies. I think money has gone to independent cinemas and independent music venues just in the last week. So that’s £1.5 billion pounds. It’s an enormous amount of support to preserve our important cultural institutions in all our local town centres and elsewhere. And with regard to those who are self-employed, between 2.5 and 3 million people have been able to access our self-employed support scheme. Many of the people you mention will be able to do that. And it remains one of the most comprehensive and generous support programmes for those who are self-employed anywhere in the world.

Q: But if you are a professional musician, what is your message right now? If they can’t earn enough money to live, is your message to them ‘you’re going to have to get another job’?

RS: I think, as I’ve said, my simple message to everybody is we’re trying to do everything we can to protect as many jobs as possible but— 

Q: But they don’t think you are, in that sector they just don’t think you are, Chancellor.

RS: Look it’s a very sad time. Three quarters of a million people have already lost their jobs. We know that. And that is likely to increase and many more people will. I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis. And that’s why we’ve put a lot of our extra resource into trying to create new opportunities for people. So our Kickstart scheme for example, for young people who are most at risk of becoming unemployed, all the way up to the age of 24, are going to benefit from a fully funded job placement, high quality— 

Q: But that’s a different job isn’t it. That’s you saying ‘go and get a different job’.

RS: That is a fresh and new opportunity for people. That’s exactly what we should be doing. 

Q: But we’re a country that has created so many fabulous musicians and artists and actors. And you’re effectively saying ‘look, I know it’s hard but maybe go and get another job’. 

RS: I think probably you’re not being quite right in that there is no work available for everyone at all. And actually funnily enough - 

Q: For a lot of them there isn’t.

RS: As in all walks of life, everyone is having to adapt. So I’m getting emails and seeing how theatre companies are adapting and putting on different types of performances. It is possible to do theatrical performances online as well and for people to engage with them that way and for new business models to emerge. Plenty of music lessons are still carrying on. The same thing happens certainly in my household and elsewhere. So yes, can things happen in exactly the way that they did? No. But everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality and that is what we have to do. And that’s why we’re allowing that to happen but also providing new opportunity for people if that is the right vehicle for them.