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BLOG: Policies of the Past: National Lottery

It’s election time and politicians on all sides are out in force to win your vote in one of the most unpredictable political contests in a generation. As the debate intensifies, our chief executive Caroline Norbury has been taking a look back at some of the most significant policy interventions to have made a real difference to the UK’s creative industries over the last few decades. In this second blog of the series, we’re going back to 1993 and the establishment of the National Lottery.

The National Lottery

28% of every £1 spent on playing the lottery goes towards good causes.

It would be hard to argue that arts and culture in the UK are not hugely better off since the establishment of the National Lottery 20 years ago. 

The Lottery was set-up in a way so that the government is not directly involved in where Lottery funding goes and Lottery money is not, and never was, intended for government schemes. Instead, twelve arms-length bodies including Arts Council England, Sport England and the British Film Institute, decide and distribute lottery funding to eligible projects.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, whose government set the ball rolling on the National Lottery in 1993, recently said “I certainly expected the Lottery to make a difference, but completely underestimated the scale of it. I had hoped that up to a billion pounds a year would be raised for good causes.”

With an estimated 70% of adults (around 32 million people) in the UK regularly playing National Lottery games, over £30 billion worth of lottery grants have now been awarded since the first draw in 1994. 20% (£4.6 billion) of those grants have gone towards arts and culture causes - including helping to support and develop our now world-class film industry. 

The Lottery and UK film

Since Lottery support for film began, 19 lottery-funded films have won 32 BAFTA awards and 14 have won Academy Awards

20 years ago, before Lottery funding, only 46 feature films were made in the UK. Last year 220 films were made here! Thanks, in part, to the National Lottery, the film industry has more than doubled its value to the UK economy in real terms and in 2013 was worth over £2.9 billion to the economy.

It was the late, great British actor, Oscar-winning director and former BFI Chairman, Sir Richard Attenborough who persuaded Sir John Major to include film investment as part of the lottery commitment. Since 1995, the National Lottery has since funded some of the most popular and commercially successful films in British history. 

Lottery investment in film has been crucial to helping filmmakers create more culturally rich and complex films. It has also enabled filmmakers to connect with a wider audience; given filmmakers more creative freedom to increase audience choice; helped to ensure the supply of distinctly British films that reflect the different cultures and identities of the UK and supported the wider economic growth of the industry – helping it transform from something of a cottage industry to a cutting edge world leader. 

In short, the film industry, and by association, the Television, visual effects and a host of other related industries, would not be in the fantastic shape they’re in today if film was not included within the Lottery’s good causes.    

Lottery funding for games?

Over the past few years, there’s been increasing calls for the government to formally recognise the cultural, educational and artistic merits of video games by legislating for their inclusion within the National Lottery Distribution Fund. 

Last year, Innovation charity Nesta called for the introduction of Lottery funding for games, stating; “To our minds, games are a creative medium with the same expressive potential and cultural relevance as film (anyone who doubts this should play Journey, Gone Home, The Walking Dead or The Last of Us)… It follows from this that the UK games industry is as deserving of support through Lottery Funding for good causes as is film”.

In March games industry trade body TIGA also called on the government to introduce National Lottery funding for games development in their 2015 Policy Manifesto. When asked in Parliament last year about what discussions had been had with the National Lottery about extending funding to the video games industry, Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey MP replied: “No specific discussions have taken place with the national lottery about the use of lottery funding in relation to the video games industry... It is for individual distributing bodies to determine the beneficiaries of lottery monies in making awards within their good cause sectors, taking account of their policy directions”.

Lottery Trivia

  • A law passed all the way back in 1698 stated that, in England, lotteries were by default illegal.
  • Sir John Major launched the sale of lottery tickets in 1994, saying "The country will be a lot richer because of the lottery. It is in every sense the people's lottery."
  • Noel Edmonds presented the first ever live TV draw on 19 November 1994 - Britain's first lottery draw since 1826.
  • The King's Speech won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor, in 2011. Without £1M of lottery funding, the producers have said the film probably would never have happened.
  • In 2013, the BFI Film Fund made 137 awards to a broad range of feature film projects across production, development and distribution, amounting to total Lottery investment of £25.8m.

In December, the BFI introduced the ‘three ticks’ initiative to ensure film productions it funds represent UK diversity. The three ticks assessment means applicants for BFI funding have to demonstrate a commitment to diversity across three areas of their production - on-screen diversity; off-screen diversity; creating opportunities and promoting social mobility - with at least two out of three ticks needed for a project to be eligible. Each year a producer in receipt of three ticks will be given a Lottery award to fund a diversity opportunity or work placement within their company for 12 months.

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