The Department for Work and Pensions has been forced to edit and re-issue a leaflet after being caught fabricating testimonials from fake benefit claimants praising the Government's welfare crackdown, in a move described by critics as "disgraceful".
Iain Duncan Smith's administration used stock images of people and made-up quotations attributed to supposed support recipients to promote welfare sanctions, but is now facing a public backlash over the affair.
One information leaflet published by the DWP, branded "Sarah's story", tells of a jobseeker being "really pleased" that a cut to her payments encouraged her to re-draft her CV.
Another, this time by claimant "Zac", praised the sanction system and applauded it for working well.
“I let my work coach know in advance that I couldn’t go to our meeting because I had a hospital appointment," he supposedly said.
“I had a good reason for not going to the meeting and proof of the appointment. My benefit payment hasn’t changed and we booked another meeting I could get to.”
A Freedom of Information request lodged by Welfare Weekly uncovered that, despite not being labelled as such, claimants comments, names and photos like Sarah's and Zac's were fake and “for illustrative purposes only”.
The DWP hastily tried to amend its advice flyers, replacing photos of people with blackened silhouette and adding a disclaimer saying, "the people in this fact sheet aren't real".
The amended "Sarah's story"
But the move came too late to stem public outrage.
One critic suggested that any journalist who had made up quotes would be sacked from their job.
Re DWP made up quotes - I think any journalist from any UK paper/broadcaster who did this would be sacked
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) August 18, 2015
Another branded the "phoney vox-pop... dishonest and disgraceful".
Here's a phoney vox-pop from DWP's leaflet explaining why cutting your benefits makes you happy. Dishonest. Disgrace. pic.twitter.com/iE8PggiEpn
— Paul Strasburger (@LordStras) August 18, 2015
The outcry comes just weeks after new legislation pioneered by Chancellor George Osborne to limit child tax credits and lower the state's annual benefits bill was pushed through Parliament.
A DWP spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: "The case studies were used for illustrative purposes to help people understand how the benefit system works. They’re based on conversations our staff have had with claimants.
“They have now been removed to avoid confusion.”