Heavy criticism and threats of direct action have followed the revelation that the DWP is funding a universal credit (UC) fake news campaign at the taxpayers’ expense, to be launched at the end of May.
A leaked memo from Universal Credit Director General Neil Couling reveals that the DWP is funding an advertising blitz disguised as news to promote UC.
There is to be a regular feature in the free Metro newspaper, published by the Daily Mail group of newspapers, as well as an advert disguised as news wrapped around the cover of the paper.
Couling boasts that:
“The feature won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding, and this is deliberate. We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC Uncovered’ investigation. The stories in the feature over the subsequent nine weeks, will highlight the flexible nature of UC, demonstrate the personal service available for all customers, and promote recent improvements such as the increase in work allowances.”
The cost of the advertising blitz is likely to be considerably more than £250,000 and it has already provoked a backlash.
The work and pensions committee has written to Amber Rudd, the secretary of state for work and pensions, with a series of questions about the project.
Amongst other issues, they want to know what knowledge she had of the campaign, how much it will cost; whether they took advice about the lack of DWP branding; what risk there is of claimants making a claim for UC to their own detriment based on the contents of the advertorials.
Meanwhile, the Disability News Service is reporting that activists are planning to take direct action against the Metro newspaper to try to prevent as many copies as possible from being read.
A dossier of evidence is also being prepared to pass to the Advertising Standards Authority, as the attempt to mislead readers about who is behind the advertorial features may be a breach of their code.
The memo also reveals that the DWP have signed a contract with the BBC to allow them to film extensively inside three jobcentres to “intelligently explore UC”.
Filming has already started in Liverpool and the chances of this being an honest and accurate documentary seem slim, given that the DWP “continue to work closely with the BBC to ensure a balanced and insightful piece of television”
The work and pensions committee have asked Amber Rudd if they can take part in the programme.