Damning report on Scotsman headline about homeless children


In the Scotsman today:

‘Damning report reveals 38 children made homeless in Scotland each day’

Then, contradicting the headline somewhat, we read:

‘The scale of Scotland’s homelessness crisis has been described as “damning” after figures showed the equivalent of 38 children a day were left without somewhere permanent to live last year.’ Analysis by the charity Shelter Scotland revealed 14,075 children were in households assessed as being homeless in 2017-18 – the equivalent of six or seven pupils for every school.  On one day in March, 6,615 children were living in temporary accommodation – the fourth consecutive year in which the figure has risen, the charity said. It described the scale of child homelessness as “shocking” and said not having a permanent place to live can have “drastic” effects on young people.’


I know, children in temporary accommodation is a tragic circumstance but the headline suggests bairns on the streets when actually they are in accommodation.

Headlines matter. For accuracy, it should have been

’38 children in temporary accommodation in Scotland each day.’

How much does this matter and who damned the Scotsman? OK it was me who did the damning, again, but it’s evidence-based damning. Research including that by Ulrich Ecker in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, in 2014, reported in the New Yorker, found that headlines can change how you read and understand the rest of the article:

‘By drawing attention to certain details or facts, a headline can affect what existing knowledge is activated in your head. By its choice of phrasing, a headline can influence your mindset as you read so that you later recall details that coincide with what you were expecting.’

Secondly, when the headline only subtly distorts, as was the case in the Scotsman, it is more damaging:

‘For conscientious readers and editors, Ecker’s findings across the two studies give cause for concern. First, misinformation appears to cause more damage when it’s subtle than when it’s blatant. We see through the latter and correct for it as we go.’ 

Thirdly, headlines can actually make it harder to remember the content of the full article:

‘The headline, it turns out, had done more than simply reframe the article. In the case of the factual articles, a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details.’


So, the Scotsman headline might leave you with the unpleasant image of 38 bairns on the street with nowhere to go.

Finally, the lack of context, in the article as a whole, can leave the reader thinking things are worse than they are. Homelessness is a smaller problem in Scotland than in the non-Scottish parts of the UK. See these for more detail:

As the number of the employed yet homeless soars in Southern England it is falling and much lower in Scotland

SNP Government to fund frontline efforts to help hardcore of street homeless while Ruth Davidson goes from baking show to celebrity list membership games and our media rats sniff the sewer air for SNP-bad aroma



11 thoughts on “Damning report on Scotsman headline about homeless children

  1. Alasdair Macdonald. July 30, 2018 / 10:56 am

    This is a good piece of didacticism , using an actual current example. We need to learn to read with awareness that there might be an attempt to nudge us towards a conclusion that might not be warranted.

    Given your raison d’être in establish this site is to highlight the mendacity and perfidy of our media, you have chosen a good illustrative example. Well done – A+ for you choice of content!

    However, such ‘nudges’ to our perceptions are not a monopoly of the perfidious journalists. The article arose from a report by Shelter and the use of the word ‘homeless’ was theirs. They wanted to evoke the image of waifs on the street to prick the consciences of humane people so that they might be spurred to donate or to press politicians to act. This is a laudable aim.

    A few years back at the British Library there was an exhibition about propaganda. It was one which certainly raised my awareness of the nuances of the practice and of the huge number of ways in which it is a force for the common good. I was surprised at how many messages I had absorbed over the years! Indeed, I am eternally grateful to my mammy for accepting so many of these messages and bringing me up so well!

    Of course, the Scotsman, wants us to trace this story back to what it pushes at every day, the font of badness – THIS SNP GOVERNMENT.

    So, you and the other sites on the pro independence side, need to push the countermessage every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bryan Weir July 30, 2018 / 11:13 am

    Excellent post John.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. tcrosbie20 July 30, 2018 / 12:25 pm

    Mr Robertson, you at the damning again, your an awful man. But honestly pretty pathetic and divisive journalism. Bad showing The Scotsman as usual.


  4. Bill Dale July 30, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    John, excellent dissection of the role of headlines in both framing the way an article is read, and reinforcing existing frames. Although as one of the BtL comments says, this can be used for positive ends, in the main the resources of the establishment are used to reinforce establishment frames and prevent questioning of any evidence that might challenge the frame. Thanks for this, I will use this in my Reframing sessions. Unlike the Rev Stu, I do not use any materials from the state broadcaster in my talks 😉



    • johnrobertson834 July 31, 2018 / 7:21 am

      I’m honoured and I promise not to come round demanding you desist from infringement of my copyright.


  5. Contrary July 30, 2018 / 6:55 pm

    That is quite fascinating, that the headline can affect your recall of the article’s details (if you bother to read it). And I had to look up Alasdair’s didacticism, so instruction indeed. The equivalent of 38 children per day seems an awful lot of children and implies it is accumulative so sounds worse, that is, 38 new children each day are made homeless. The numbers are tragic as it is – but you are right, I had to look at them again because I couldn’t recall even the one paragraph quoted!

    Kezia was on the radio this morning, she has carried out her own study into how well councils are caring for wards of the state – she has concluded they are doing badly, and that’s because councils don’t have enough money. I thought that the SNP were taking action on how well children are cared for by the state? I will have to look it up – should have done it before writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Contrary July 30, 2018 / 8:49 pm

      Okay, it all took a bit of finding – I mean, I commend Kezia for looking into it and taking the time to care, I was just curious how it fitted into the whole and tried to ignore her politicising – but yes, there are on-going reviews, and money put towards making the lives of cared for children (apologies for my archaic ‘wards of the state’ description) better. I have to admit I have not read all of these:

      Looked after children
      Kezia report
      Government funding
      Next stage of review
      Care Review

      Interestingly, the link from the Celcis page to Kezia’s report takes you to her personal website (I haven’t read it). As a summary, in May last year an independent review was set up, and this ran until May this year (the final link above) though is ongoing (‘next stage of review’). CELCIS were appointed to carry out the independent review. The next stage appears to be a staged implementation of some ideas. The Scottish government committed £32m in June to assist in attainment for cared for children.

      Maybe Kezia is right to keep the momentum going, publicity up and highlight problems, but there does seem to a lot of activity and measured steps being taken. I am a great believer that all children should have the same opportunities – it isn’t their fault who their parents are.


      • Contrary July 31, 2018 / 7:53 am

        It made me appreciate all the hard work you put into scouring the Internet for us!

        GMS this morning had a snippet of John Swinney on, saying that councils had the opportunity to increase council tax if they needed more (is there anyone out there that believes councils can be trusted to spend wisely? Or have I just lived in glasgow too long?). Then reporting morphed into a more general children with additional needs, they had a chap on, head of a school for boys with additional needs in Fife, but I couldn’t quite figure out what he was meaning – he said there were cuts in staff, but said there had been a 55% increase (in 2014?), but then a 1% drop,,, he was muttering a bit. It didn’t sound like a Scotland-rubbish report, but maybe they had covered that before I started listening.


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