Oh dear. The government’s “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” campaign has drawn mass criticism. It shows Fatima, a ballet dancer, alongside the phrase “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”. The brackets are a bit sinister, no? And cyber? What exactly does that mean? You’d be forgiven for thinking that the government looked into Fatima’s skill set and interests before presenting her with an alternative career path in, what the dictionary defines as "computers or computer networks", but no, it also identifies 'cyber' as a job for Justin (a barista) and Sophia (can’t actually tell what Sophia does, but it’s something to do with clothes.)
As Caitlin Moran pointed out on Twitter, the government is in need of competent data scientists. “TBH, if ballerina Fatima DOES end up crushing all her dreams to work in Cyber, I hope she’s the one who notices they’re using a version of Excel from 2003 and that it will fuck up the whole track-and-trace campaign #getintherefatima."
It's a PR disaster that the government are scrambling to distance themselves from. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has called it “crass,” underlining his plans to invest £1.57bn in the economy, while a Downing Street spokesperson labelled it “inappropriate”. Although the image was actually part of the government’s 2017 Cyber First programme, and aimed at “people from all walks of life to explore the idea of a career security”, it serves as yet another reminder that the arts is in a line of ceaseless fire.
It comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak told people working in such industries that they should “adapt” during the pandemic. But “adapt[ing] to a new reality” is wearing a face covering, leaving a restaurant at 9.55pm and self-isolating after your holiday when returning from a hotspot. “Adapt[ing] to a new reality” is not taking up a job in “cyber” because the government does not deem your dreams worthy or your industry salvageable. It was only in February that a ballerina featured on the official “shortage occupation list” of jobs, as part of its new immigration rules. C'mon!
The image might have been has pulled but the fury hasn't died. Such blatant contempt for creative industries is maddening. Not to mention ill-founded. The arts contribute £10 billion to the UK economy each year, and that’s before you’ve got to those it inadvertently fuels – tourism, travel and hospitality for example. Expecting people who have trained their whole life to just… give up, confounds any “follow your dreams” philosophy that is so rightly instilled in our young. More often than not, jobs in the arts industries come with great sacrifice, whether it's being overworked and overwhelmingly underpaid or simply being seen as someone who doesn't have a "proper job". And on an entirely more selfish note, the thought of lockdown without the fruits of their labour is unthinkable. Television, film, radio, books, podcasts, poetry and paintings kept - and continue to keep - us sane.
As the above picture points out, the person who designed the image is a creative. So too is the person who did Fatima’s hair and make-up, in addition to the person who lit the scene and shot it, and more still, the person who edited it and laid the text over the top. Down to the maker of the bench she’s sitting on, they’re all creatives.
It's a staggeringly low swoop, and one that begs the question: is the government in cahoots with Billy Elliot's dad?