As people in major towns of the UK sweep their lives back into order, it has been suggested that the national riots were triggered after a 29-year-old man, Mark Duggan, was shot in London by police officers. But the absence of plain English in a major public crisis has again made matters worse with details of the shooting being poorly communicated by the police force, and the difficulties experienced by police officers in deciphering the street language of young rioters.
Earlier this year, the 7/7 evidence hearings were heavily criticised by the attending judge, Lady Justice Hallet, for being seriously short of ‘plain English’.
As part of the ‘clean up’ of affected towns the insurance industry estimates there are £750 million in claims to date. But before receiving their money, policy holders will have to wade through the jargon and small print of numerous claims forms and legal papers.
The reality of lost lives and livelihoods places the need for protection in its many forms at the front of many peoples’ minds.
One form of this is through the insurance industry, which exists to protect our lives, our lifestyle and our livelihood. There is clearly a need for this service as highlighted by the impacts of the recent national riots. But conversely, it is these tragic events that have underlined how the insurance industry continues to be the biggest culprit for making product information confusing.
Even in our daily routine lives, when peoples’ incomes are being eroded by economic recession, redundancies or business closures, the inevitable dealings with jargon in employment information, legal and financial documents and insurance policies only serve to bring further frustration and despair to people who believed they were prepared and protected in the event of such crises.
Meaningless and unnecessary words simply create confusion and obscure the true meaning of a message. It is this objection to jargon and gobbledygook that has kept Plain English Campaign battling for the past 32 years. Together with public services, like council offices, housing associations and hospitals and private organisations from a variety of industries plain English guides are being produced. One example from insurance market leaders Unum is a plain English guide to Income Protection. This is their first step in their own plain English campaign towards setting better industry standards. (You can view a video about why this guide was produced by following this link.)
Chrissie Maher OBE, and founder of Plain English Campaign says, “Whether it’s words that are spoken or written, the people you are addressing have a right to understand the language you use. If you have something worth hearing about then it’s your responsibility to make it crystal clear and use plain English.”
The US Plain Writing Act 2010 has left the UK Government trailing behind. US financial advisers now have no choice but to make their information plain. It seems that in the UK it will be up to the private sector to make sure people have the right to crystal-clear information.