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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 00:31 GMT
Government leaflets 'lack sense'
John Cleese playing civil servant in Monty Python
Would you let this man loose on a leaflet?
A government department has been urged to cut the number of leaflets it produces after officials found they often made little sense.

The Department for Work and Pensions spent 31m on publishing 250 different leaflets last year.

But the National Audit Office found these were frequently out of date and difficult for the public to understand.

Edward Leigh, Tory chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, said the DWP was producing "gobbledegook".

Hard to read

The NAO found people often needed a reading ability above the national average to understand the leaflets, with words such as "disability, incapacity and entitlement" causing difficulties.

About 16% of UK adults - or five million people - have literacy skills equivalent to those expected of an 11-year-old, according to official figures.

The DWP, the UK's biggest government department, did not have an up-to-date list of all its publications, the report found.

Tory MP Edward Leigh
Mr Leigh said poor language was "plaguing" government leaflets

Leaflets for pensioners and disabled people were only available at one in five offices, while it was particularly difficult for wheelchair users to access information without help.

The DWP was urged to "significantly reduce" the 24 million leaflets it produced every year and to make them easier for the public to understand.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "It is vital that people can rely on the accuracy of the leaflets the government produces to make informed choices about their lives, and it is vital that they can get hold of these leaflets and easily understand them when they do."

Mr Leigh said: "This report reveals that gobbledegook is plaguing government communications."

He added: "People may be missing out on things for which they are eligible."

A DWP spokeswoman said: "The NAO recognises the recent progress the department has already made in this area and that many of our leaflets already display elements of widely recognised good practice."

The department now had a single database of leaflets and was "starting to reduce" the number published.

The spokeswoman added: "We already help over 20 million people with a wide range of benefits and services, and recent customer satisfaction levels are high."

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