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We should follow Italy’s lead and give everyone who turns 18 a £500 cultural bonus

Britain’s cultural sector is under immense financial pressure and swift action is needed to save it (Getty)

Arts and cultural education has given rise to some of Britain’s largest and most successful exports – from BBC television programs to musicians and designers. But it looks like this Conservative government is intent on scrapping what little is left of British arts education and soft power.

“I want you to have a job at the end…because the results interest me,” Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told me recently when I asked him about the role of higher education in the today’s society.

This sums up what seems to be an increasingly common and harmful way of thinking about education and culture in Britain today. In other words: “If it doesn’t make a profit, we’re not interested.”

That’s why we should follow Italy’s lead and give everyone who turns 18 a cultural bonus of £500 which could be spent on anything cultural including books, instruments, tickets concerts and music streaming.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to be given such freedom at 18, to be able to go see the movies I wanted or buy my own musical instrument. Not only would this be a world-class birthday present, but it would also be a massive and much-needed investment in the cultural future of our country.

Various studies suggest that by 2040, tens of millions more jobs will be automated or lost to organizations moving into new areas of innovation. That shouldn’t be a bad thing, if we’re prepared.

However, our education system is far from being adapted to respond to the changes that are coming. There is still far too much emphasis on learning specific pieces of information to pass exams, rather than instilling a philosophy of pursuit of interests and a culture of lifelong learning .

If our jobs are to be lost to robots, we must master what they cannot; we must strengthen our creativity and use our inspiration for the common good, whether it is communication skills or artistic pursuits.

It may seem very utopian to some, but the Covid-19 pandemic should have shown us the importance of those pesky arts graduates in keeping us sane and entertained during various lockdowns.

And yet, last year, the government presented a proposal that would halve funding for arts subjects in universities. This is just another example of short-sighted policy-making that will have negative consequences, especially for people from low-income backgrounds who will no longer be able to follow their passions at the university level.

By introducing an egalitarian culture bonus, we could change the narrative that art is a middle-class activity, as well as counter the idea that art should generate direct economic profit, whether as a hobby or as a diploma.

I spent several years in the famous Finnish education system as a student, and although it is far from perfect, our Nordic friends are ahead of us in this area. Not only are well-funded music, art, carpentry, crafts, and cooking classes offered free to all students, they are often mandatory.

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As well as providing valuable life skills such as the ability to fix simple electrical appliances and use a washing machine, children have the opportunity to explore their creativity through the program, which teaches people from their younger age that no education is useless.

While it’s true that museum visits don’t directly affect your grades, they don’t need to. Enjoyment of the world around us should be seen as a value, and introducing a cultural bonus could open more people’s eyes to this. Cultural participation can also relax us, improve mental health, create a sense of community, and even act as a form of counter-radicalization.

Rory Buccheri, who received the cultural award in 2017, tells me: “As an idea, it has merit, but I doubt it was a coincidence that it was presented by Matteo Renzi’s government to 18-year-olds just before parliamentary elections”.

It’s an idea that could easily be tested locally, and the costs of which would be offset by the Government’s crackdown on the tens of billions of pounds lost each year to tax avoidance.

The UK cultural sector is under immense financial pressure and swift action is needed to save it. The introduction of a cultural bonus would provide a much needed injection of money into the arts, as well as placing potential and creativity in the hands of our young people. Certainly, it is worth investing.


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