Government Legal Department was consulted over ‘misleading’ DWP ads

Commons question confirms efforts of DWP to see controversial, unattributed Universal Credit campaign signed off.

The Government Legal Department was consulted over the “factual accuracy” of the costly, heavily criticised Universal Credit promotional campaign run unattributed by the DWP.

Responding to a written Commons question, DWP minister Will Quince also confirmed the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was consulted over the campaign.

The ASA is currently investigating the ads.

In his response, Quince maintained the promotional partnership with Associated Newspapers was intended to “increase understanding of Universal Credit”.

Labour’s Ruth George questioned the costs incurred in the Universal Credit Uncovered campaign, which ran in May and June 2019 in The Metro and online.

George made specific reference to advertising consultancy costs.

Quince said there were no advertising agencies, consultancy or additional costs associated with the campaign, with detailed planning taken forward by DWP officials.

“We went to great lengths to ensure the factual accuracy of the campaign through extensive consultation within the Department, including the Government Legal Department,” said Quince.

“We also consulted with the Advertising Standards Authority Copy Advice Team prior to the launch and continued to do so throughout the campaign lifetime,” he said, referencing a letter placed in the House of Commons Library as disclosing the full cost of the partnership.

Quince also referenced the sharing of a copy of the memo setting out the purpose of the campaign from the DWP’s director general of Universal Credit and director of communications to DWP staff with the Work and Pensions Select Committee – a copy of which he committed to place in the House of Commons Library.

The campaign – with costs speculated as high as £200,000 – was widely criticised, with ‘welfare reform’ driving thousands to destitution.

A previous Commons question confirmed the DWP’s  2019-20 communications budget for advertising and marketing was £13,332,000.

The Department is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over the unattributed Universal Credit promotional campaign.

Both the DWP and Associated Newspapers have had formal confirmation from the ASA that the investigation into the campaign is underway.

Each is invited to respond to a complaint about the ads made by anti-poverty charity Z2K.

Not directly identified as from the DWP, the ads were branded highly damaging, given the inherent potential for claimants already living vulnerably to make decisions that mean they are living with less money than they were on legacy benefits.

The ASA investigation focuses on four different challenges:

  • Whether the ads are obviously identifiable as marketing communications from the DWP
  • Whether the claim “MYTH Universal Credit doesn’t work FACT It does. People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system” is misleading
  • Whether the claim “MYTH You have to wait 5 weeks to get any money on Universal Credit FACT If you need money, your jobcentre will urgently pay you an advance” are misleading and omits significant restrictions that are likely to affect a person’s decision to apply for Universal Credit
  • Whether the claim “MYTH Universal Credit makes it harder to pay your rent on time FACT Your Jobcentre can give you an advance payment and pay rent directly to landlords” is misleading and omits significant restrictions that are likely to affect a person’s decision to apply for Universal Credit

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