A group of disability charities have lodged an official complaint over the government’s “seriously damaging” Universal Credit adverts.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has faced serious criticism over a series of ‘news report’ ads in the Metro newspaper promising to “uncover the truth” about Universal Credit, the government’s controversial benefits system.
The first set of ads in the “myth-busting” campaign answered questions about delays to payments, paying rent and sanctions – but were slammed as “embarrassing” by charities, who called for the money spent on the ads to be used to help claimants.
Now, the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a coalition of more than 80 disability charities – has submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about the “deliberately misleading” ads.
A survey of almost 500 disabled people by the DBC found that while 70% struggle to pay for food under Universal Credit, 85% had seen their health worsen since being moved to or starting on the benefit.
One respondent said: “I have considered suicide frequently. I’m not sure I can cope with this forever. The DWP are basically killing me.”
Anastasia Berry, policy manager at the MS Society and policy co-chair at the DBC, said: “These adverts, masquerading as facts in a national newspaper, are seriously damaging.
“The DWP says that claimants can get an advance of their benefits to help them, but it’s really just a glorified loan – and one that must be paid back over mere months. The omission of this fact is a major cause for concern and, coupled with everything else, points to a serious ignorance from the DWP.”
The government department – led by Amber Rudd – must stop “messing around” with expensive ads and focus on ending the five-week wait and reintroducing disability premiums, she continued.
“Until then, it’s not going to convince anyone that Universal Credit is working for disabled people.”
But a spokesperson for the DWP said there was “no proof” those responding to the DBC survey had ever received Universal Credit.
“It’s likely that this unscientific and unrepresentative survey will only serve to discourage people from claiming the benefits they’re entitled to and it compares poorly to our survey of 6,000 people that shows 80% are satisfied with Universal Credit,” they said.
“All our advertising is factual and designed to increase understanding of Universal Credit.”
The DWP consulted the Advertising Standards Authority before launching the ads and have “reflected their advice”, they added.
A spokesperson for the Metro said: “Metro is a non-partisan newspaper, which carries advertisements for a range of clients, including government departments and unions.
“Metro takes advertising standards seriously and requires our advertisers to comply with all laws and the Advertising Standards Authority code. The Department for Work and Pensions has informed us that the advertising was reviewed by the ASA’s Copy Advice Team prior to publication. Metro is happy with this process.”