I can’t remember another occasion when a Government department was stopped from lying to the people it serves by a Government agency. But that is what happened yesterday.
The fact is that the Advertising Standards Agency has banned four of the DWP’s six newspaper ads and the accompanying web page from appearing again in the form complained about.
Six ads for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appeared in the Metro and on the Mail Online and Metro Online websites from May to “set the record straight” about the benefit.
The ASA said it had told the DWP to ensure it had “adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in its advertising” as well as presenting “significant conditions” to its claims clearly.
Few of us would associate the happy smiling faces of the pair above as the beneficiaries of universal credit. It is not a bad thing that the Government presents the payment of benefits with positive images, but when the substance of the advertisement turns out to be misleading, the images become those of actors and we begin to doubt the intentions of those who commissioned them.
What are the accusations upheld by the ASA?
The ASA said it considered that readers would interpret the wording “move into work faster” to refer to secure ongoing employment, but in fact the 2017 study the claim was based on had included “people who had worked for only a few hours on one occasion during the relevant period”.
The ASA thought this misleading, saying it was not always made clear enough in the adverts the advance was a loan to be repaid within 12 months, or that the advance payments were not necessarily available immediately.
The ASA said this was misleading as it omitted significant restrictions placed on the right to alternative payment arrangements, which are in fact available to about one in 10 claimants.
Why would a Government department lie like this?
Lying and spinning are the same thing, if the impact is to create a false impression. This advert lands on television viewers in three ways
- To recipients of Universal Credit, it is designed to quell discontent
- To voters at forthcoming general elections, it’s designed to support the incumbent Government
- To tax-payers , it’s designed to show how UC is providing all of us with value for money.
Lying to society’s most vulnerable
The political point is time-bound but important, points (1) and (3) are more fundamental. Government has a responsibility to look after those who are jobless, homeless and penniless and that is what Universal Credit was set up to do. It is clearly unpopular because it restricts payments as part of the Government’s ongoing austerity program.
What the complainants against the adverts are saying is that the Government’s claims for UC are untrue and these complainants aren’t UC beneficiaries but their representatives.
The organisations that submitted complaints included the Disability Rights Consortium, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K).
In a properly functioning society , these organisations should be working with the DWP not seeking to stop it telling lies.
Lying to the tax-payer
I pay my taxes without demur because I know they put the homeless in homes, the jobless in jobs and the penniless in pennies
I do not expect to hear that a Government department charged with spending my money is lying to the people who are in such a predicament that they cannot be secure over a house, a job or the money to pay for life’s essentials.
That the DWP is also the department on which we depend for later life benefits like the state pension and the apparatus supporting workplace pensions makes it worse. It calls into question the probity of DPW quangos such as the Money and Pensions Service and Pensions Wise and it asks us to question why this department is being held responsible for delivering a pension dashboard.
It is a department with “form” for poor communication, but whatever the failings in communication over changes in state pension age, the DWP has never before been pulled up for deliberately misleading the people it is supposed to be helping.
When the top topples….
Regular contributor to this blog – Gareth “the ferret” Morgan spends his life advising on benefits, he has called UC for presentational shortcomings on this blog before.
I expect he will comment on this ASA verdict. Gareth is one of the very few people in financial services who understands how UC works and calls Government when it doesn’t.
I am sure that he will be asking himself the question in the headline of this blog, just who is responsible for the shambles that has led to the DWP being found to be lying to its most vulnerable stakeholders?
My reading of the situation may be wrong and Gareth is better placed than I to comment. But I cannot help thinking that these adverts are the product of a department under pressure from within Government to make a better fist of promoting UC, under pressure from complainants to keep destitution from the door of the needy and under pressure from politicians to pretend that for the poor, austerity is over.
The DWP simply cannot do all these things without it seem – lying.
And here we come to leadership.
We have had a staggering 15 different people acting as Secretary of State at the DWP in the first 19 years of this millenium. They have been split between the two major parties and the revolving door suggests that no one wishes to take ownership of the DWP for any length of time.
The only minister with security of tenure was Ian Duncan Smith who was SOS for nearly a third of this period. He was of course the architect of UC and he is still in Government.
Is Therese Coffey going to be toppled now that the top has toppled? She is more interested in winning a general election and seeing through her vision of Brexit. She will not be held responsible for the ASA decision.
Infact nobody will. The decision will be swept under the carpet as a careless bit of Government – joining the omni-shambles that Universal Credit has become. Other departments will make “thick of it” comparisons and DWP civil servants will have internal inquests.
They will no doubt stick to the party line so far.
We are disappointed with this decision and have responded to the Advertising Standards Authority.
We consulted at length with the ASA as we created the adverts, which have explained to hundreds of thousands of people how universal credit is helping more than 2.5 million people across the country.”
Why should we believe them?