The challenge in reporting poverty is to ensure that the language used is accurate and neutral. With poverty there can be a tendency to reach for stereotypes. Objective journalists will always challenge these and report as they find, and will try to create headlines that are eye-catching without stereotyping.
The language below highlights the terms that people on low incomes themselves have indicated they support and those they do not. Additional information can be found in the 'Further resources' section below.
|Language supported by people on low incomes||Language that has been criticised for being judgmental and/or misleading|
People on low incomes
People in poverty
People experiencing poverty
Poverty-stricken, impoverished, 'The poor': these can be stigmatising. People who are poor are not a generic group (just as disabled people are not). 'Neutral' phrases such as 'people in poverty' or 'poor people' are better.
Scroungers, spongers, dossers, feckless, lazy: most journalists would agree there is no situation when these should be used and maybe they are rarely used these days. But it is worth emphasising that these are derogatory terms and it is difficult to see any examples where they would be justified, except in quotes.
Handouts, benefits culture: 'people receiving benefits' or 'in receipt of benefits' are more neutral choices here.
Blame; deserving and undeserving poor: people in poverty are often blamed for their own situation, yet in the vast majority of cases it is not their fault.
Sink estates: place someone in a 'sink estate' and you are likely to be reinforcing a stereotype. Such terms can stigmatise both a location and everyone who lives there.
"Issues such as poverty are frequently discussed in bland phrases or camouflaged by academic jargon. The fact is they concern people – our potential audiences of readers, listeners, viewers, internet users and even twitterers. It would be wrong both ethically and commercially not to do them the service of reporting their lives as sensitively as we would any other members of our communities."
Bob Satchwell, Executive Director, Society of Editors, and Caroline Diehl, Chief Executive, Media Trust
"In Northern Ireland, journalists don't use words such as 'scroungers', or 'dossers' or other insulting or degrading terms, mainly because they are aware of living in a community and people know one another. I think this is something that appears more in the nationals, where the journalists will rarely if ever meet the people they are describing."
Gerry Millar, Daily Mirror
"We realised… that the terminology and language we used would be important. We decided that the word 'poverty' wasn't going to do us any favours. It can be offensive and it’s vague. Instead we favoured terms such as 'low income' or 'disadvantaged'."
Rachel Hellings, independent film-maker