The government spent more than £225,000 on newspaper ads selling the benefits of Universal Credit.
In May, the Department for Work and Pensions – headed up by Amber Rudd – launched a nine-week “myth-busting” campaign in the Metro vowing to “uncover the truth” about the government’s controversial benefits scheme.
It emerged on Wednesday that, in total, ministers had spent £225,458 on the advert.
In a letter to the House of Commons library, Work and Pensions Minister Will Quince said the money had been spent on the campaign – which appeared in print and online – as well as an online “hub” where claimants could find out more about Universal Credit.
Independent MP Frank Field – who is chair of parliament’s Work and Pension’s Committee – said: “DWP has spent almost a quarter of a million pounds on advertising when it couldn’t tell people whether they’d be better or worse off on UC.
“Why doesn’t the department concentrate on trying to get UC right, without dissembling about the wonders of Universal Credit? If it was so wonderful, you wouldn’t have to advertise it.”
It follows widespread criticism of the ads during their publication, with the first coinciding with a damning report from the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty in which he condemned the government’s welfare policies as a “sanitised” version of Victorian-era workhouses.
“Much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos,” Philip Alston said.
Matthew Geer, Campaigns Manager at Turn2us, told HuffPost UK: “The Universal Credit advertising campaign in the Metro was a poor use of funds by the DWP. Instead of spending over £200,000 on defending the much maligned benefit, this money could have been used to finally fix its many problems.”
Some readers of the paper accused ministers of burning taxpayers’ money on “laughable propaganda”, while other critics encouraged people to dump copies of the Metro newspaper featuring the ads.
The government defended the adverts, saying it was “important” for people to know about the benefits available to them.
“We regularly advertise Universal Credit and we work closely with stakeholders to help them best advise claimants,” they said.
“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).”
However, it emerged in July that the ASA had launched a formal investigation into whether the ads carried misleading claims about Universal Credit.
Watchdog chiefs are also considering whether the adverts – which were written in a pseudo “news report” style – were obviously identifiable as marketing, or whether they potentially deceived readers.
The probe followed an official complaint from the Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of more than 80 disability charities – who described the adverts as “embarrassing”, saying the government should have used the money to help claimants.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Universal Credit has rolled out to more than two million people so far and these numbers are continuing to grow. It is absolutely vital people know about the benefits available to them and to this end it is right and responsible that we regularly advertise Universal Credit.”