[Ben Reeve Lewis is looking at words and their meaning this week …]
I confess I’m a wordy man. My ex-mother in law, with more than a hint of affectionate sarcasm, once bought me a mug with the logo “Chatterbox” on it.
But I’m a trainer and housing adviser, I talk for a living…..what can you do?
On the conversation front I’ve met my match in Frazzles of course, who could talk you into the grave and still find an addendum.
She has a habit of saying, absent-mindedly in the shower when she is gathering her day’s thoughts, “What was I gonna say love?”, to which I reply whilst shaving, “Where to start eh?”.
I have a passion for housing and communication. Language is important to me. Words aint just words. The Rolling Stones once sang “Its only rock n’ roll” but nothing is ever ‘only just’ something.
Words, words …
Take the term “Affordable rents”, which is the government introduced system that raises social housing rents to nigh on market rent levels and calls them “Affordable”. How does that work then? Affordable for whom exactly? (That old chestnut – see this post from 2008 …Ed)
Similarly with the term ‘Flexible Tenure’. Flexible because it suits tenants to have a flexible lifestyle? Or are flexible tenancies more flexible for a landlord seeking to end people’s security and throw them out?
I’m told that in the parlance of the US military, getting your head blown off in combat is recorded as “Traumatic amputation”. Well, traumatic would certainly be a word I would choose if my head were to become detached from my body without so much as a by-your-leave.
George Lakoff (My linguistic hero) talks about what he termed “Conceptual Metaphors”, the idea that the figures of speech we use to describe things, actually reflects a way of thinking about life as opposed to being merely just a figure of speech. The very words we unconsciously choose both a-ffects and re-flects our view of life.
- It’s a jungle out there
- It’s a game of 2 halves
- Survival of the fittest
- LHA capping is driving down rents
These aren’t just random phrases, they tell us something about how we structure our ideas about life.
And it is with this mind that I read with interest on Landlord Today that there may be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel (howzat for a conceptual metaphor?) of all this housing benefit direct-to-tenants rubbish that has been doing so much damage since it was brought in.
The DWPs Chris Grayling, answering questions from Labour’s work and pensions secretary Stephen Timms said:-
“The department for work and pensions would have the CAPABILITY, to make payments to landlords from the start of Universal Credit”.
“Would have the capability?” How interesting is that? Is this the start of a climb down? An admission of the chaos caused by direct benefit payments to tenants?
Bum shuffling politicos
Governments never actually climb down though do they?, especially since Thatcher’s infamous “This lady’s not for turning’ quote which in our collective linguistic minds put changing your mind in public on par with kiddie-fiddling.
Since that time politicians just shuffle down on their bum a little at a time while nobody is watching, before standing up in a different position and blaming the other bum-shufflers for being spineless U-Turners.
To be honest I would actually trust a politician who for once turned around and said “What a F**k-up that was. Sorry folks, wont happen again”.
And talking of strategic bum-shuffling, In an interview on 24Dash, Grant Shapps was asked if he had any regrets in his time as housing minister. A tricky question to field without admitting to any mistakes or change of heart. No room for anal-angling you would think but he did manage it when he answered:-
“I think three years ago I should have had more faith in believing it was possible for the (Housing) sector to deliver as it has”
An effective piece of jiggery-pokery that actually says:-
“My only failing is in not understanding how great you guys all are”.
More cheese than Liberace playing a concert with Siegfried and Roy in Neal’s Yard Dairy.
It reminds me of the time I once ran a training course on interviewing skills for unemployed youngsters for Brent council and threw the standard old interview question out to the group “What would you say is your weakest trait?” to which one hoodied smartarse swiftly shot back “I work too hard”.
You have to smile sometimes. Maybe he can take over the role of housing minister when Shapps gets kicked up to cabinet.
And while we are still on language and housing have a look at this rather interesting article on 24 Dash about how Lambeth council in London sent out letters to tenants warning of immanent eviction after their housing benefit had been cut and they couldn’t afford the rent.
Apparently a whole brace of families ignored them, citing the same reason, that they simply didn’t understand the Jargon.
Councillor Lib Peck said:-
“It transpired that 40 different households had received the same letter but had absolutely no clue of what it was telling them because it was in ‘benefit language”
I know the feeling. Last week I got a letter back from a mortgage lender in connection with some questions I was asking about my client’s impending possession hearing and it was so full of mortgage-style jargon I didn’t understand a bloody word of it. I decided to confront it head on and sent back a letter in response that said:-
“Thank you for your letter of the 4th July 2012. I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea what you are saying in it. Could you please re-write in a more accessible format?”
Still waiting for the response on that one.
Nearly on Barnet
Finally my favourite article of the week was on Nearly Legal, an excellent legal resource that I confess, being a non-lawyer sometimes loses me in the arguments, especially when it comes to leasehold law, but Giles excelled himself this week with a review of London Borough of Barnet’s publication of its “Tenancy Strategy”.
All council’s have to publish one but not until January 2013. Barnet are obviously keener than most. An eagerness perhaps given away by the title “End of the council tenancy for life”. I haven’t seen the actual report but it wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t pictures of champagne corks popping on the cover.
Nearly Legal point out that in their keenness to get it out there they have ignored a few basic legal requirements such as consulting anyone else before publishing it.
Of most interest to me is the section that deals with what happens when a tenant is deemed to be earning too much to live in a Barnet property, which they set at £36,000 gross income if you have kids and only £30,000 if you don’t.
The article highlights the problem when looked at against the background of the PRS rent level for a 2 bed property in Barnet is £1,170 per month. To be officially affordable the couple renting would need a Net income of £40,116.
Incentivise or decentivise?
I read a few weeks back, I think it was Shapps, that this kind of upper earning limit would incentivise people to do well for themselves but when they piloted flexible tenure in New South Wales they found it had the opposite effect, people held back for fear of losing their home.
If you were a Barnet resident would you take that promotion that would lose you home security and a reasonable rent and throw you out into an unregulated PRS?
Incentive my arse. Its like BMV investors preying on people terrified of mortgage repossession who they christen “Motivated Sellers”.
Think I’ll start a new blog, “Nonsense watch”, where I highlight the week’s linguistic sleight of hand, or “Sleight of Mouth” to give it the title of Robert Dilt’s Excellent book on this very same subject.
To end, an office colleague has just asked me if I wanted to join him on a sponsored charity raising parachute jump. My facial expression didn’t have the desired communicative affect so I added “It’s a fine line between parachuting and paraplegic……no thanks”
Ben Reeve Lewis
Ben’s runs Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties, catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.