Government advert encouraging ballet dancer to retrain in IT is ‘crass’, admits minister

Campaign encouraging young people to pursue career in cybersecurity sparks anger

Tom Batchelor
Monday 12 October 2020 13:21 BST
Oliver Dowden describes situation for workers on furlough ‘challenging’

A minister has sought to distance himself from a “crass” government-backed advertising campaign that suggested a ballet dancer could retrain as an IT worker.

The advert showed a young ballet dancer with a caption saying: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet)”. It was followed by the tagline: “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”

The campaign, which triggered an angry response from many who accused the government of not sufficiently supporting the creative industries through the pandemic, comes as part of a drive to encourage workers to consider new roles as the jobs market is reshaped by coronavirus.

Responding to the criticism, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, insisted the poster had not been produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). 

However, the HM Government logo featured prominently at the bottom of the advert alongside branding for Cyber First, a government-backed project to encourage youngsters to explore careers in cybersecurity. 

The poster was heavily criticised on social media

“To those tweeting re #Fatima. This is not something from DCMS & I agree it was crass,” Mr Dowden said.

“This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cybersecurity.

“I want to save jobs in the arts which is why we are investing £1.57bn.”

Oliver Dowden admitted the poster was ‘crass’

The poster, which was one of a series which featured people from a variety of other professions, was heavily criticised on social media.

Jonny Geller, a literary agent, tweeted an image of the advert, saying: “The UK government has become the Dad in Billy Elliott.

Writer Caitlin Moran responded: “I don’t know if the government know they appear to have recently created a ‘Hopes & Dreams Crushing Department’, but for a country already depressed and anxious, I would suggest it’s a bit of a ‘Not now, dudes’ moment?"

Shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan tweeted: “Fatima, you be you. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you aren’t good enough because you don’t conform to their preconceived social norms.”

The controversy came after the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, denied encouraging workers in the struggling arts industry to retrain.

Mr Sunak insisted he was talking generally about the need for some workers to “adapt” and suggested there would be “fresh and new opportunities” available for those who could not do their old jobs.

According to Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10bn a year to the UK economy, with £3 spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel for every £1 spent on theatre tickets.

On Monday, the government announced Liverpool’s Cavern Club, Bristol’s Old Vic theatre and the London Symphony Orchestra would be among more than 1,300 arts venues and organisations to receive up to £1m each as a share of £257m of state funding. 

The tranche of cash is part of the government’s £1.6bn Culture Recovery Fund.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in