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MPs Demand Details Of DWP’s Universal Credit Advertorials

May 17, 2019

A cross-party group of MPs have written to Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, demanding more details of a reported £250,000 “unbranded” PR campaign to promote universal credit.

A leaked internal document revealed by the Guardian this week says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has taken out newspaper advertorials purporting to “myth-bust common inaccuracies” about universal credit in a “UC-uncovered investigation.”

The campaign, consisting of an advert wrapped around the Metro newspaper and a four-page feature inside, will not feature any DWP branding, according to the leaked memo. “The features won’t look or feel like UC – you won’t see our branding,” it states.

This week the Leicester Mercury carried a lengthy feature under the headline “I think universal credit is great – here’s why”, based on interviews with staff at a jobcentre. “It’s a good thing. It is helping people and it is making a difference,” Steve Bruce, a team leader at Leicester’s Wellington Street jobcentre, was quoted as saying.

Bruce appears to have been well briefed by the DWP communications team on the lines to take about universal credit. “It’s designed to break the cycle, get people into work, and it is doing that,” he said.

A write-up of the article in other regional titles owned by the publishing group Reach was similarly sympathetic. The headline “Universal credit: why it is actually a great idea” appeared in Reach titles in Newcastle, Kent and Wales.

The original article noted that claimants had “spoken about hardship” after transferring to universal credit, and acknowledged its reporter had been invited by Rudd to meet the jobcentre staff. But it did not mention the DWP’s PR campaign, and the other articles did not mention the DWP’s invitation.

The memo, published on the DWP intranet, suggests the campaign will be a counterweight to “negativity and scaremongering” in the media, which it blames for putting people off applying for the benefit.

The chair of the work and pensions select committee, Frank Field, has written to Rudd asking to see the internal DWP documents in full. He has asked for details of the cost of the campaign, whether Rudd personally approved the plans, and what guarantees the department can give as to the accuracy of the advertorial.

“I know that the department will be keen to ensure the accuracy of its communications. Will you ask Citizens Advice, who deliver your Help to Claim service, to approve the wording of any written communications – including the reported wraparound in the Metro – to ensure that they are clear to claimants and do not risk misleading or confusing them,” Field wrote.

He called for guarantees from the DWP that the unbranded advertorials would not confuse claimants or potential claimants, and he asked for evidence that the department had assessed the risk that the PR campaign could prompt people to sign up to universal credit when they did not need to.

The committee is concerned about reports that some jobcentre staff wrongly advise benefit claimants to switch from legacy benefits to universal credit even when in some cases they will be left hundreds of pounds worse off as a result.

Field has also asked for more details of the DWP’s plans to partner with the BBC on a documentary about universal credit. The Guardian revealed that the DWP would have access to the film before transmission, although the BBC insists it has editorial control.

Universal credit, which is running six years behind schedule, rolls six benefits into one single monthly payment. An estimated 8 million people will claim it by 2023. Current estimates suggest millions of claimants will be up to £1,000 worse off when they move on to it.

The online benefit has been subject to widespread criticism in the media – from the Guardian to the Sun – especially for its designed-in five-week waiting time for a first payment, which has been blamed for an increase in food bank use. MPs of all parties, campaigners and the National Audit Office have criticised it.

Last year the UN rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, highlighted universal credit in his critical interim report on the rise of poverty in the UK. “Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into universal discredit,” he wrote.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 17, 2019 11:30 am

    “Citizens Advice, who deliver your Help to Claim service”

    CAB – Get help applying for Universal Credit –

    “Our Help to Claim service

    Help to Claim is a dedicated service from Citizens Advice. It’s free, independent, confidential and impartial.”


    GOV.UK – Press release

    Citizens Advice to provide support to Universal Credit claimants –

    “The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will fund Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support from April 2019, the government has announced.”

    GOV.UK – News story

    New ‘Help to Claim’ service provides extra Universal Credit support –

    “DWP ***invests £39 million*** into new ‘Help to Claim’ service provided by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland for Universal Credit claimants.”

    Fraud Act 2006 –

    The Bribery Act 2010 –

    Misconduct in Public Office –

    Serious Crime Act 2007 – Encouraging or Assisting Crime –

    Accessories and Abettors Act 1861 –


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