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04Nov

Universal credit has received an 'uplift' – isn't that just an 'increase'?

The government may be hoping ‘uplift’ will raise spirits, but their latest feel-good word can also mean seismic change …

When first asked to extend free school meals over the holidays, the British government pointed to its “uplift” to universal credit of £20 per week. The media dutifully mentioned the “uplift”, but when did it become impermissible to say simply “raise” or “increase”?

It was the American writer Nathaniel Parker Willis, friend of Edgar Allan Poe, who first used “uplift” as a compound noun in 1845, in a poem describing the baby prophet Nathan’s presentation to King David: “His brow / Had the inspired up-lift of the king’s.” In the following decade geologists described how land could be subject to “uplift” over time. Not until the mid-20th century was it adopted in business to mean (at first) an increase in prices, and therefore profits – as in the fees charged to the government by Serco.

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