Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, recently spread the message in an ITV news interview that people working in the arts sector, for example musicians, “should retrain and find other jobs.” This caused outrage and sparked many debates, for obvious reasons, but it also formed a question in many people’s minds. How important are the arts? Are they as important as jobs in other sectors, for example retail?

We should take the National Ballet as an example. This is mainly paid for by the government, and is viewed as a national treasure by many members of the public. However, these types of institutions are extremely classist, being an option only for upper classes because of the price. 

Do we consider being a dancer on the same level as working a 9-5 at Sainsbury’s? On one hand, the skill set required for being a dancer is a lot higher, and most train for their whole lives. On the other hand, working at a supermarket is an essential job, and during this hard time it is easy to work out who we need more.

The reaction to Rishi Sunak’s suggestion was horror, justifiably, and he soon ‘corrected’ himself after the severe backlash. Nevertheless, he might have a point. Not about retraining in the arts, but about focusing on industries that are more essential during the pandemic. In the eyes of utilitarianism ethics, the government should do what helps the most amount of people, and funding essential workers not only helps them but the general public they are serving.

This is not to say that we should let the arts go under. National treasures such as the Ballet, the Theatre and Gallery, as well as many others funded by grants from the government, should go to the British public for help. A small amount from many people would help greatly, and surely we can all spare something, to prevent our national treasures disappearing?

By Lara Stimpson