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Situation prompts debate around appropriate terminology to describe a person's socio-economic background.

Camden People's Theatre exterior

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A north London theatre has said it will review the language it uses to promote inclusion following criticism of two job adverts that encouraged applicants from the "benefit class, criminal class and underclass".

Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) removed the terms from its recent adverts for Artistic Director and Joint CEO and Developemnet Manager after objections were raised on social media that the language was “insulting”.

"There has been concern raised over some of the language we used in a recent job advert, and some people have found it offensive,” a statement issued by the theatre said.


"As a result, we are reviewing the language we use to encourage and support access, diversity and inclusion.

"For now, we have removed the language from our job adverts that has caused offence and we will update it once we've had the opportunity to consult more widely with our artists and partners, including those with expertise in using inclusive language."

ACE, which invests £71,288 annually in the theatre through the National Portfolio, told the BBC it was aware of the job advert’s wording and was in "regular contact" with the organisation.

A spokesperson added that ACE reserves "the right to be involved in the recruitment process for senior roles at all National Portfolio Organisations" but added that an organisation's leadership and board "remain responsible" for "operational and day-to-day management" of activities.

Anne-Marie Canning, CEO of the charity The Brilliant Club, which works with schools and universities to support less-advantaged students, said on X that she had “never seen this expression about socio-economic diversity before,” calling it “insulting on many levels to many people”.

Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, called the phrasing "horrifying", while Keasha Brockett, the Diversity & Inclusion Staff Engagement Lead at Brilliant Club, added: "In trying to include everyone, the wording has managed to offend everyone."

Socio-economic background

In recent years, the term "working, benefit, and criminal class", abbreviated as WBC-C, has emerged within the arts sector.

Classroom, a peer-led project led by freelance theatre artists Stef O’Driscoll and Caitriona Shoobridge, first promoted the use of WBC-C in recognition of "the different ways in which some people choose to identify their socio-economic background".

The project and the use of the term originated from a series of 2020 town hall meetings known as Class and Coronavirus, where "a group of artists from low socio-economic backgrounds discussed their varying lived experiences of class".

Classroom is currently on hiatus as O'Dricoll and Shoobridge are now part of the two-year Fair Play initiative, run by the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme (RTYDS), designed to tackle class inequality in theatre.

In a statement, RTYDS said: "It was at one of these [town halls] that 80 artists came together, and this is where the term emerged – working, benefit, criminal class. This was how those artists identified.

"We started to use it because it came from artists and how they wanted to identify. There was a lot of misunderstanding around why this language was representative of the people who chose to use it. Just as there is now.

"As the project has evolved, so has our language. We now predominantly use ‘low socio-economic background’ aiming to bypass the misunderstanding and get to the root of the barriers quicker."

Classroom's website notes: "We are not asking the creative industries to adopt this language if it does not want to," adding "we cannot represent anyone other than ourselves".

Divisive language

"This language has actually become quite commonplace in the theatre sector," wrote Reece McMahon, Executive Director of Chisenhale Dance Space on X, responding to Canning's comments.

"Lots of it has come out of direct conversations with people who felt that ‘working class’ no longer reflected the depths of their experiences.

"And if anything, the term ‘working class’ had been claimed by lower-middle classes, and so new language needed to exist.

"I’d consider myself to be a product of a benefits class, and though I don’t use the term, it more accurately captures my experience growing up.

"There is a sense of language like this further dividing an already minority and marginalised group though, which I’ve always wondered how helpful that is."

A headshot of Mary Stone