Government by euphemism a mild word substituted for one politically too blunt referring to something embarrassing

18 May 2016


Every letter sent out by the DWP/Jobcentres telling people they are eligible for unemployment benefits states  "the amount the Government says you need to live on is ...£ a week". It is a euphemism; that means a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.

"The amount need to live on",  has never had any connection with the minimum price of healthy diet, fuel to cook it and keep warm,  clothes transport and other necessities. Both as Chair of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust until 2012 and now as founder of Taxpayers Against Poverty  I have been saying so with others since 1999.

In 1997 the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust commissioned the Family Budget Unit to research the minimum income needed for an unemployed couple and a single parent with two young children. The report,  Low cost but acceptable, was published in 1998. A single persons. We found that "the amount need to live on"  was £39 a week short of an income needed for healthy living.

Income Support was then £50.35 a week, £30.30 for under 25s, plus 100% housing and council tax benefits.

Since 2008 The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has annually produced minimum income standards.   They are based on robust research and public consultations. In 2015 out-of-work single people received  only 40 per cent of what the public says they need.

"The need to live on" as an unemployed single adult of £73.10 a week has been paying rent and council tax since April 2013. Unemployment benefits were not increased in April 2016. That is the first time in living memory that Income support/JSA/ISA have not received and annual increase, despite the fact that the real value of £73.10 adult unemployment benefit has been reducing since 1980.

From the 1980s until the 2008  crash the Westminster Government had allowed rents and land values to escalate. In the 1980s rent controls were abolished, lending by the banks was deregulated and the free flow of cash in and out of the UK was permitted. National ansd international speculators flooded money into a UK housing market in short supply.

The wealth of landlords and land owners grew as the value of their land escalated and ever increasing rents were paid securely to landlords by housing benefit, which went up and up with the market; tenants of course gained nothing from the ever increasing value of UK land, however 100% housing and 100% council tax benefit were paid until the crash in 2008 when government by euphemism took over.

The Local Housing Allowance introduced in 2008 was the first governmental euphemism for cutting housing benefit. The next two  were the Benefit cap, hurting families,  and the Removal of the spare room supplement, hurting individuals, both imposed in 2013, and requiring payment of rent out of "the amount you need to live on"  .

The new localised Council Tax Support,  euphemistically imposed a cut in council tax benefit in 250 councils in 2013 so adding the tax to the rent being paid, due to housing benefit cuts,  out the "the amount you need to live on".  

The majority of the public, who have never had to claim benefits to survive,  were sold all these euphemisms using  another one even more misleading. Cuts in benefits, not forgetting benefit sanctions, have forced people into food banks.

They were sold to the public as great acts of justice by a fair government.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: 'The benefit cap is a key part of our reforms to restore fairness to the welfare state".

The The Guardian published this letter from Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and the late Tony Lynes on the 14th May 2009.

Benefit negligence

 The inadequacy of the £64.30 weekly jobseeker's allowance (£50.95 for the under-25s), noted by Paul Nicolson (Letters, 11 May 2009) is a modern phenomenon. When unemployment benefit started in 1912 it was 7 shillings a week - about 22% of average male earnings in manufacturing. The percentage fluctuated over the succeeding decades, but by 1979 the benefit rate was still about 21% of average earnings (manual and non-manual, male and female).
By 2008, however, as a result of the policy of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, the renamed jobseeker's allowance had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings. And while, in the past, means-tested allowances raised unemployed income to a higher minimum level, the jobseeker's allowance rates are now the same, whether means-tested or not.

Of course, average earnings have grown but so has the relative deprivation of the unemployed. This is not a policy justified by the need to maintain work incentives. It is just a dreadful record of neglect by governments since 1979.
Jonathan Bradshaw
University of York
Tony Lynes