The Daily Mail reported today that Iain Duncan Smith was ‘furious’ at the BBC for ‘adopting the language of Labour’ in relation to the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’. The article highlights that Mr Duncan Smith believes ‘The BBC has a duty to inform the public. We believe that the BBC is failing in this duty and confusing members of the public…’ and that ‘We do not believe it is the job of the BBC to use misleading terms’. He goes on to add that ‘This is not simple debate about the “branding” of a policy. It is about factual accuracy, ensuring the public are properly informed, and being clear about the political nature of terminology that has gained common currency at the BBC.’ The last quote attributed to Mr Duncan Smith is ‘The public expects you to do better.’
We were lucky enough to host an event with Professor Ruth Levitas this morning, during which she explored some of the language used around the ‘Troubled Families’ agenda and here are two quotations from her slides, with my emphases added:
‘That’s why today, I want to talk about troubled families. Let me be clear what I mean by this phrase. Officialdom might call them ‘families with multiple disadvantages’. Some in the press might call them ‘neighbours from hell’. Whatever you call them, we’ve known for years that a relatively small number of families are the source of a large proportion of the problems in society. Drug addiction. Alcohol abuse. Crime. A culture of disruption and irresponsibility that cascades through generations. We’ve always known that these families cost an extraordinary amount of money…but now we’ve come up the actual figures. Last year the state spent an estimated £9 billion on just 120,000 families…that is around £75,000 per family.’
David Cameron December 2011
‘the Government recently identified a group of 120,000 troubled families whose lives are so chaotic they cost the Government some £9 billion in the last year alone’.
Iain Duncan Smith, Foreword, Department for Work and Pensions (2012) Social Justice: transforming lives,
Neither of the above statements are ‘factually correct’ as Professor Levitas highlighted this morning and there are other quotations from government ministers that have also been found wanting, especially in regard to the issue of alleged ‘cultures of worklessness’:
‘there are four generations of families where no-one has ever had a job’*
Chris Grayling, Minister for Work and Pensions, 2011
‘And those who have no interest in work, because they have seen their parents, their neighbours and their entire communities sit on benefits for life, have simply had their destructive lifestyle confirmed’
Iain Duncan Smith (15 March 2011)
Professor Levitas highlighted in her presentation the recent report called ‘The lies we tell ourselves’ produced by a number of churches about the ‘comfortable myths’ surrounding poverty. She also used a quote from the press release accompanying the report from Paul Morrsion of the Methodist Church – ‘we
have a culture which allows us to tell lies in public life’.
Given the Minister’s concern about the standards expected of the BBC, we welcome and share his desire to improve the ‘factual accuracy’ of some of the language in political debates – and would like to see this desire extended to the language used to represent families and individuals experiencing poverty in the UK today. If Mr Duncan Smith believes that the public expects better of the BBC, he will, I am sure, be aware that our expectations of the government are equally as high, if not higher.
*The slides from Professor Macdonald and Professor Shildrick’s presentation on ‘cultures of worklessness’ can be found here.