The Times doesn’t care about people in care

Following on from my earlier post, The Times’ story about university places for care experienced people has grown worse.

Something I didn’t spot in the original was the way the piece drew a distinction between “disadvantaged” pupils and “bright” pupils, as if the latter couldn’t possibly include the former. Again, the word choice is significant.

Writing on Medium, Charlotte Armitage goes into more detail.

What this type of article does is fuel discrimination towards Care Experienced people. It creates separation between ‘star pupils’ and Care Experienced pupils and it can be understood to be implying that someone cannot be both. This has been demonstrated by comments underneath the article, outraged that pupils “who happen to have stable and functioning families are penalised”.

The Times’ editor has defended the piece as “balanced”. The comments have continued. Here are some that Armitage screenshotted:

“Slap in the face to all the hardworking parents who actually love and take care of their children.”

What matters isn’t the quality of the student, but the quality of their parents.

“University should be for the brightest and not a test tube for social engineering.”

People who’ve been in the care system are not the brightest.

“Bright children denied a university place, so a thicko can have it?”

People who’ve been in the care system are “thickos”.

There is of course no connection whatsoever between whether someone’s been in care and their ability. But there are lots of reasons why their opportunities are more limited than those of, say, a middle-class kid.

I was a middle-class kid. I didn’t suffer from disruption to my education from being moved from place to place, family to family, so I didn’t have to supplement my qualifications by doing further education classes to met any entrance requirements. Even if I’d wanted to do those classes, I would have had the luxury of a roof over my head, food in my belly and money in my pocket so I could concentrate fully on my studies.

In the end I didn’t go to college or university. But I didn’t go because I chose not to, not because the option wasn’t available to me. Had I gone, I’m sure my parents would have supported me there too.

As Armitage writes, that’s not how it usually works for care experienced people. The disruption in earlier life means you need to attend further education just to have the same qualifications as everyone else – and chances are you’ll be doing that while working multiple jobs to keep a roof over your head, trying to study when every bit of you aches with tiredness. All the while there is no plan B, no safety net, no helpful parent to bail you out if you lose your job or encounter an unexpected bill.

A guaranteed offer of a university place doesn’t change any of those things. It’s still going to be much, much harder for people coming out of the care system to get into university than it is for people from more stable family backgrounds. But as Armitage says:

The guaranteed offer is not about discouraging applicants who have had fortunate upbringings and were already likely to succeed. It is about giving the people who missed out on so much as result of childhood trauma and state intervention a chance, so that they too, can reach their full potential and go onto live prosperous and successful futures.

It won’t turn privilege into disadvantage. Those with straight A’s will still gain entry into university. It just means Scottish campuses will provided the opportunity to learn to a more diverse array of students.

Back to the article. The Times likes to write about groups of people without giving a voice to those people, and the coverage of care experienced people follows that model. Here’s one of the people they could have talked to: Kenneth Murray, writer and award-winning campaigner.

Here are some bits from his tweets to The Times’ Scottish editor.

@magnusllewellin I do quite a lot of work on the stigma that Care Experienced people face, particularly with the media.

In fact I’ve worked with some of the journalists in your employ on the importance of language around issues of Care Experienced people.

It makes me sad to see this shift.

Whilst I understand there are real issues around quotas & access to university for many groups – using Care Experienced people in this way is incendiary.

Care Experienced people like me have faced many struggles to get where we are. Through hard work, determination & some help.

We really don’t need a national newspaper, a journalist and an editor from that paper compounding the stigma that surrounds us & any support we receive to help rectify decades of institutional failure.

I find it really bizarre that such a quality newspaper, focused on providing great journalism would bypass anyone with experience of care.

Your paper has managed this succesfully in the past. I really don’t understand why they haven’t this time.

This is something various minorities have seen too: they give up their time to meet with and even deliver courses to journalists for publications that will later misrepresent and even demonise them.

All too often, The Times and its journalists are not coming from a place of ignorance. They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they do it anyway.