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Time to put an end to political jargon

by: Marilyn Owen (8 December 2009)

Have you ever sat down to fill out an important form only to give up in despair when you discovered it was riddled with so much jargon that no one in their right minds could possibly understand?

Well, don't despair because most of us are exactly the same we, in our right minds, just can't get on with all those ridiculously wordy forms either!

The trouble is it doesn't end there as it means many people are failing to claim their benefits that they need and deserve this includes older people who just can't understand the forms needed for applying for their pensions, according to a public administration select committee report. In fact, the National Audit Office said that the reason why pensioners are so poor is that they have so much difficulty completing the required forms in order to apply for all their benefits.

The report said that people were put off from dealing with public authorities due to the unnecessary complexities of official forms and letters and confusing requests for information.

The committee recommends that people should make complaints when they come across forms that have been badly written and so are difficult to fill out. It says that incomprehensible and obtuse language should be "exposed and condemned" and be replaced by plain speaking which should be praised more.

The MPs lauded sketch writers who "perform a public service by skewering the most egregious linguistic excesses."

It was impossible for normal people to understand how policies would work due to explanations being so complicated and badly worded, and the committee added that originality was lost due to the overuse of "stock phrases".

So many complaints about long winded letters from government departments have been received including one from a Citizens' Advice Bureau adviser who commented: "A four-page letter to ask for a medical certificate is not helpful."

Committee chairman Tony Wright intends to address this situation. He proposes that such opaque language and complicated wording of forms and information should be treated as maladministration as they amount to bad government. Good government requires good language, it was said and it was recommended that there should be a proper complaints procedure that would force government to take seriously its responsibility to "use good, clear and understandable language."

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