Political literacy: who cares?

February 20, 2023

Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Kerrie Portman demands the voice of young care leavers is heard

Political literacy refers to the set of skills needed to participate in democracy, including understanding elections and governmental processes, knowing how to engage in politics and critical thinking skills to evaluate the different viewpoints. This often ties into media literacy and terms such as:

Misinformation: “untrue information created and shared as if it were true, there is no specific intention to cause harm.”

Disinformation: “untrue information that is created and shared in order to deceive and/or harm a person, organisation or social group.”

Mal-information: “true (or partly true) information that is shared with the intention of causing harm to a person, organisation or social group, often by moving information intended to stay private into the public sphere.”

Sites that work to fact-check information include Full Fact, First Draft and Snopes. Political and media literacy specialists, Shout Out UK have a guide on how to fact-check information.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of political literacy within the school curriculum. However, Shout Out UK reported that the top-end private schools, which aren’t burdened with similar under-funding restrictions, taught political literacy, leading to a class divide.

As well as being more vulnerable to political illiteracy, Care Experienced people are more affected by politics

The Missing Link report by Dr James Weinberg highlighted a further class divide, stating “parents earning over £70,000/year are more than twice as likely to feel ‘quite’ or ‘very’ confident talking to their children about politics than parents earning less than £10,000.”

This class divide is magnified for those in Care and Care Leavers, who are often moved from school to school, are more likely to have spent time out of education and have overall lower educational attainment. Moreover, they don’t necessarily have a parent or guardian to speak to them about politics.

As well as being more vulnerable to political illiteracy, Care Experienced people are more affected by politics. Our lives are more governed by laws and policies than our non-Care Experienced peers; the recent Care Review by Josh MacAlister is a prime example.

On top of this, the 2017 Children’s and Social Work Act introduced the concept of Corporate Parents, and one interpretation of this cites elected politicians as being included in that umbrella. Subscribing to this means that councillors and MPs are effectively our parents. This ought to mean we are accepted, included and used to political language.

However, politics often feels imposing, stuffy, alien and categorically for old, white, straight, able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class privileged cisgender men.

A politically literate population leads to a healthy democracy

I was never consistently enrolled in education and didn’t even know what local elections were until I was 22. I didn’t know what a councillor was until I was 23, when I met someone who was running to be one and was encouraged by my friends at the time to join the local branch of a political party.

Unfortunately, that ended in bullying, being uninvited to events and feeling more unwelcome and segregated than ever. It was around this time that I learnt that my other ventures were actually classed as politics, including my role as Director of a grass-roots pride CIC and campaigning against Care Leaver homelessness, work which led to me being named one of the winners of 30 To Watch Politics Awards 2022.

A politically literate population leads to a healthy democracy. Politics, in all its incarnations and embodiments, has the power to improve and indeed save people’s lives. That’s a magical ability and everyone has the right to the knowledge and knowhow to partake in politics.

Everyone has the right to have their voices heard. Refusing to hear someone’s opinion just because it’s different to yours is a sign of stupidity, as is thinking you know best all the time. People who think like this shouldn’t be politicians. The more voices politicians hear, the more diversity they will appreciate and the better a civilisation we will become.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

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