Government using more negative language about benefits

Mon, 08/04/2013 - 18:29 -- nick

The government is using more negative and loaded language about benefits and claimants, a study has found.

The Guardian has examined the text of ministerial speeches and press releases from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the last year, and found that the language used has become far more judgemental than in the final year of the previous Labour government.

The newspaper wrote:

'In the 25 speeches by DWP ministers on welfare over the year, "dependency" was mentioned 38 times, while "addiction" occurred 41 times and "entrenched" on 15 occasions. A comparison of 25 speeches on the subject by Labour ministers saw the words used, respectively, seven times, not at all, and once.'

Ian Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has mentioned welfare dependency in every speech he has made on benefits over the last year.

This is despite the economic downturn accounting for increases in both unemployment and benefits payments.

Fraud was mentioned 85 times in DWP press releases despite only accounting for 0.7% of the benefit bill, and despite there having been a decrease in fraud over many years.

Helen Barnard, policy manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, criticised the deterioration in language.

She said: "It misrepresents what poverty is about. It sets up this idea that there are poor people and people on benefits and then everybody else, and never the twain shall meet. When you look at the research, it's very much the opposite. The majority of people in the UK will experience poverty at least once in their lifetime. The idea that poverty is experienced by another group that is fundamentally different to everyone else is completely wrong."

Duncan Smith regular cites the idea of intergenerational worklessness, with more than one generation in a household never having worked, as an example of the kind of dependency he would like to see ended.

However, a JRF study found that three generations of jobless people in one family could not be found in the UK, while two generations is very rare.

The DWP language is echoed in the media; The Guardian also found that the term "benefit cheat" was used 442 times in national newspapers last year, an increase of almost two-thirds on the 12 months before the coalition took power.

The DWP said: "We are very clear that it is the welfare system that is failing individuals, not the other way around and our language always reflects that. Currently, people are being trapped on benefits or are missing out on the support they are rightly entitled to. Our reforms will end the benefits trap, and will also make it easier for people to claim the help they need."

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