Image Gradient
BOP Consulting Logo | HomeButton
image gradient

Image Credit: Joshua Rawson-Harris

Download Project Report

VIEW PDF

The ‘leisure class’ has not, in general, enjoyed a good reputation, suggestive as it is of indolence, degenerate European aristocrats and conspicuous consumption. But maintaining and growing its members will in fact be essential to the future of the UK economy.


This is particularly the case with the creative sector. A key factor in its success in developed nations is what the Work Foundation describes as the ‘apex consumer’ – educated, discerning customers who demand novel, well-designed products, and hence impel businesses to innovate. The history of the creative industries of the last fifty years bears this out, whether it was the middle classes of the 1960s who flocked to Habitat stores, or the late-twentieth century digerati who helped turn the internet into a medium for retail and entertainment.


Rising disposable incomes are obviously a big part of this story: creative products are classic examples of what economists call ‘luxury goods’ in which demand increases disproportionally with income. But crucially, what the creative industries require is not simply wealthy, or even sophisticated, consumers – it needs consumers with time, the most important of all scarce resources and the one most often overlooked. It is free time which not only provides the opportunity for many artists and writers to make creative things, but even more importantly, gives people the chance to consume them.


Although commonly regarded as its antithesis, leisure has in fact long been associated with economic development. For all the urban squalor associated with industrialisation, increased leisure time and popular culture, whether in the form of concert halls or football clubs, proved to be its more enduring legacy. And while the organized labour movement played a crucial role in achieving this, it was by no means the only reason: Henry Ford, the greatest industrialist of his age, helped to introduce the five-day working week in America, recognising that people needed weekends if they were actually going to have time to drive the cars he was manufacturing.


But since then, it is striking how little progress there has been towards growing our leisure capacity. In the UK, the right to a paid holiday was established before the war, but it is still no more than four weeks, plus eight public bank holidays – the lowest in Europe. Many professionals fail to actually take their full holiday entitlement, while mobile communication technologies have meant that work is increasingly blurring and encroaching upon our free time. In contrast to the predictions of western commentators a generation ago, the average number of working hours per week has actually increased over the last twenty years.


Ironically, it is creative employers themselves who are among the worst culprits. Some of the country’s most over-worked, exploited and time-poor professionals are those working in design, media and entertainment. Yet, these are also exactly the people who ought to have more time to consume creative products. Many of us are surrounded by books we haven’t read or music we don’t listen to, while the digital economy has led to advanced systems for tagging, storing and displaying our favourite film and television shows, but not the time to actually watch them.


Two centuries of technological innovation, labour specialisation and international trade have resulted in extraordinary productivity gains, but now they must give us more time – rather than just time-saving gadgets. We badly need the next stage of consumer capitalism, in which the leisure classes are widened and democratized, and people have the opportunity to enjoy the culture we are actually producing. There are sound environment reasons why people should work fewer days and have longer holidays. It would almost certainly make us happier and healthier. But for creative businesses, if that wasn’t motivation enough, it would also mean a larger market and more revenue.

On the Economic Necessity for Leisure

Tom Campbell on "the country’s most over-worked, exploited and time-poor professionals... those working in design and media."

Jun 26, 2015

Green Cities helping climate change through culture and sustainability

Nov 4, 2021

How are major cities around the world responding to climate change through cultural policies and programmes?

The Green World Cities of Tomorrow: Culture and Sustainability

Paul Owens

Culture and the Climate Emergency

Apr 22, 2021

5 Priorities for World Cities in the post-covid recovery period

Culture and the Climate Emergency

Paul Owens

Culture and the Recovery: Levelling Up Culture?

Dec 4, 2020

Culture can play an important role in recovery and renewal across the UK, if the right local decision-making is put in place

Culture and the Recovery: Levelling Up Culture?

Callum Lee

Central London’s celebrated

Sep 23, 2020

This focused, coordinated set of measures can not only rescue the sector, but position it to lead the recovery

Central London’s celebrated cultural offer is in peril

Jonathan Todd

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #3

Aug 21, 2020

Three big questions as applications close for Arts Council England’s Cultural Recovery Fund

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #3

Paul Owens

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #2

Jul 30, 2020

The UK’s £1.57 billion recovery package: priorities for a New Deal

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #2

Paul Owens

COVID-19: Cities, Culture and the 3 ‘P’s: powers, partnerships, place

Jul 20, 2020

Cities are using their unique capabilities to lead recovery and renewal

COVID-19: Cities, Culture and the 3 ‘P’s: powers, partnerships, place

Paul Owens

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #1

Jul 7, 2020

Investing in recovery, planning for transformation

COVID-19: Government support packages for culture and creative industries #1

Paul Owens

COVID-19 is a triple blow to culture and the creative industries

Jun 30, 2020

Recovery and renewal will depend on how we address the three dimensions of the crisis

COVID-19 is a triple blow to culture and the creative industries

Paul Owens

Take planning and collaboration to whole a new level.

Jun 3, 2020

In the face of radical uncertainty leaders and policy-makers will have to take planning and collaboration to whole a new level

‘Plans are useless, planning is essential’

Paul Owens

Relief, Recovery and Renewal

May 13, 2020

Nobody knows what will happen next, but we have a good idea of the three necessary steps out of the crisis

Relief, Recovery and Renewal: navigating our way to a new kind of future

Paul Owens

The Golden Thread in the 2020s

Dec 20, 2019

A cause for optimism

Weaving the Golden Thread into the 2020s

Paul Owens

Related Articles

By BOP Consulting

Tom Campbell

Senior Associate

Tom is a Senior Associate of BOP. Tom currently leads our work on World Cities and works on a range of innovation and cultural masterplanning projects.

Tom Campbell - Senior Associate | BOP Consulting

Planning a new project?

If you are interested to learn more about our work or if you have a project you would like to discuss, get in touch.

SHARE ARTICLE
Tomas Campbell

Tom Campbell

Senior Associate