Charities, MPs and benefit staff have slammed Tory ministers for blowing public cash on a "spin" campaign for their scandal-hit benefit system.
The "Universal Credit Uncovered" series was branded "shameless and deceptive" after it launched today with six pages of advertising in a national newspaper.
The series – which included a front-page advert – was designed to resemble investigative journalism and "deliberately" left off DWP branding, according to an internal memo seen by the Mirror.
It claims to be "busting myths" about the six-in-one welfare system because "sadly" not everything written about it is correct.
But campaigners said the bill, estimated in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, would be better spent fixing a torrent of complaints about the system.
The nine-week PR campaign in Metro launched on the same day as DWP policies were compared to Victorian workhouse culture in a searing report by a UN Rapporteur.
Hours after it launched, MPs heard Universal Credit is pushing women towards selling sex to get as little as £5 for an electric bill.
In recent weeks, Universal Credit staff have also staged a two-day strike in protest at workloads and staff shortages.
Meanwhile the government has still not coughed up back payments for disabled claimants who lost out moving to UC more than four months ago – with some now planning court action.
A glitch that leaves some claimants needing to find a week's extra rent every 5-6 years has led to claims the DWP "disagrees with the fundamental workings of the Gregorian calendar".
Figures released last week show 14% of all new UC claims are still not paid on time and in full. Campaigners say the way it is paid can worsen domestic abuse.
DWP Secretary Amber Rudd herself admitted in February that UC had, in the past, driven some people to food banks.
And the head of the National Audit Office has suggested there is a "tin-eared" culture at the DWP.
Yet the advertising campaign states: "A lot has been written about Universal Credit recently – not all of it correct, sadly".
The campaign includes a full-page photo of 'Paul', a security guard who has "gone from being afraid of work and losing his benefits to being employed and taking as many hours as he can".
It also includes an interview with a work coach named only as 'Anne' and 'Myth v Fact' graphics "setting the record straight".
One claims it's a "myth" that "Universal Credit doesn't work", adding: "It does."
Other "facts" have raised eyebrows among campaigners.
One says it's a "myth" that "you have to wait 5 weeks to get any money on Universal Credit", when in fact, Jobcentres can "urgently pay you an advance."
However, the advert fails to spell out that these advances are taken out of future benefits and have to be paid back over several months.
It also fails to mention that the standard wait used to be six weeks, not five, and was only reduced after massive political pressure.
In another case, the advert says it's a "myth" that "Jobcentre staff want to stop your benefit payments".
It says in fact, "they'll support you all the way. Fewer than 3 in every 100 UC claimants are having payments reduced by sanctions".
The advert fails to mention what this '3 in 100' stat amounts to – more than 400,000 sanctions have been dished out to people on Universal Credit, 20,000 lasting longer than six months. Sanctions over six months are now set to be banned.
Foodbank charity the Trussell Trust seized on the #UniversalCreditUncovered hashtag to launch its own nine-week campaign of "facts".
The charity tweeted: "Instead of spending time on spin, they should tackle the reasons why so many people waiting for #UniversalCredit are forced to #foodbanks.
"So far 21 charities have joined #5WeeksTooLong to call for an end to the 5+ week wait for #UniversalCredit.
"Over the next 9 weeks, we’ll uncover the different impact that wait has on people, from homelessness & health issues, to debt & domestic abuse."
Benefits advice charity the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said the ad campaign was “shameless and deceptive”, adding: “ Universal Credit left our client without enough to live on.”
Vicki Nash of mental health charity Mind said: “This costly PR exercise could have been focused purely on informing people about their rights in the benefits system.
"But instead much of it has been about promoting the much-criticised Universal Credit under the guise of ‘myth-busting’.
"This money would be better spent elsewhere, for example, providing emergency loans to families waiting for their first payment, support with navigating the complex application process and help appealing decisions that affect the level of support they receive.
"Ironically these ads launch on the same day a damning UN report draws a clear line between extreme poverty and cuts to changes to benefits over the last few years, which have fallen squarely on the most vulnerable in society.”
The PCS union, which represents workers on Universal Credit, said claimants have "suffered terribly as a result of this policy".
General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Ministers should hang their heads in shame for wasting money on a propaganda campaign trying to breathe life into failed project which needs to be scrapped."
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said: “If the DWP wants to understand the facts about Universal Credit, it could look to the horrific, harrowing evidence we heard this morning.
"People – mostly women, single mums, students – are telling us that they are forced through sheer desperation to exchange sex for the means to feed, house and warm themselves and their children.
"Instead of going out to get the evidence for itself, the DWP just dismisses this testimony as anecdote and brushes it aside."
Labour's Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Marsha De Cordova, told Theresa May at PMQs : "The DWP is doubling down, promoting Universal Credit with an aggressive PR campaign.
"How is it right that the DWP is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on misleading adverts that promote a cruel policy which is driving my constituents into debt, despair and destitution?"
Tory welfare chief Amber Rudd shook her head at the claims.
Theresa May replied: "What the DWP is doing is spending not just its resources but its effort – and I thank all the staff in DWP for this – out there helping people into the workplace."
The advertising campaign does not contain DWP branding but does contain a disclaimer, "advertisement feature from the Department for Work and Pensions", to comply with advertising guidelines.
A DWP spokesman told us previously: "It’s important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise Universal Credit.
“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
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