Wow. You have to admire the sheer arrogance of bosses at the Department for Work and Pensions.
I suppose it arises from the fact that they have been able to “nudge” so many thousands of people off benefits and into the grave – without the slightest fear of punishment.
What else can explain the fact that, according to a memo circulated by DWP bigwigs themselves, the department is launching a campaign to counter “negativity and scaremongering” about Universal Credit – but is hiding the fact that it is involved, in the hope that nobody will notice the publicity is nothing more than thinly-veiled propaganda.
According to Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian, the campaign currently has two spearheads: A wraparound cover, supported by a four-page advertorial feature in the Metro newspaper, and a documentary on UC to be aired on that bastion of impartiality (ha ha), BBC2.
Mr Chakrabortty writes: “I can only assume that the DWP’s overlords are creating their own distortion of reality, because I cannot think of a single bigger policy failure this decade than universal credit.
“Amber Rudd, the DWP secretary, now admits Universal Credit’s introduction has left people so short of cash that they have resorted to food banks.
“What Iain Duncan Smith hailed in 2011 as a transformation of welfare has turned into something grotesque, with massive delays and huge flaws both of administration and design, repeatedly damned by MP select committees.
“The independent National Audit Office judges that universal credit has neither saved public money nor helped people into work. But it has left thousands of vulnerable claimants penniless, while others starve and even lose their homes.
“In a House of Commons debate last summer the London Labour MP Catherine West recounted how one of her constituents had ‘fallen off benefits’ and ended up ‘sleeping in a tent in a bin chamber’ on a housing estate.
“Such are the horrors whose very documentation by journalists the DWP letter dismisses as ‘unfair’. Rather than halt universal credit, as demanded by so many groups, the department’s managers now say they will respond ‘in a different way … very different to anything we’ve done before’.”
Put in a nutshell, they’re going to lie through their teeth.
Apparently the Metro inserts will “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC… The features won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding … We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC uncovered’ investigation.”
This is against the law and the Advertising Standards Authority will (one hopes) take a great interest. This is an advertorial – a marketing communication – and as such there is a legal requirement for it to be labelled as such. Nobody should have any caused to wonder who has done this investigation because they should be able to read in black and white that it isn’t one – it’s an advert.
And a costly advert at that: £250,000 of our money that could be better-used in trying to solve the faults that make Universal Credit a burden on the poor and vulnerable. That’s every week for nine weeks, making a total of £2.25 million.
Mr Chakrabortty describes it as an “elaborate media strategy to manufacture a Whitehall fantasy, one in which the benefits system is running like a dream while a Conservative government generously helps people on the escalator to prosperity”.
The newspaper initiative includes press junkets to Job Centres, for reporters to “see the great work we do”. I doubt anyone will be invited to the JCP at Ashton under Lyne, somehow. Mr Chakrabortty writes: “Doubtless, the Jobcentres will be carefully chosen and everything will be arranged so that when the dignitaries descend, all will be as precisely ordered as the innards of a Swiss watch.”
The other part of the spearhead is a three-part BBC2 documentary series in which reporters have been offered access to three Job Centres. The DWP memo states: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us – we’ve been involved in the process from the outset, and we continue working closely with the BBC to ensure a balanced and insightful piece of television.” For “balanced” read “slanted”, for “insightful” read “propaganda”.
Mr Chakrabortty again: “When the civil servants’ trade union, the PCS, found out about the filming, it asked if staff could talk frankly to the crew, only to be told no: they would still be subject to the civil service code, which demands complete impartiality. Perhaps this explains an internal PCS note on the BBC series I have seen, which remarks that staff are unhappy about being identified on screen. At one of the nominated jobcentres, in Toxteth in Liverpool, ‘It is our understanding that there have been no volunteers to take part in the filming.’ The risk is that any staff who do participate toe the management line, making the film an advert for universal credit.
“The PCS briefing also reports a senior universal credit manager telling union reps that ‘the DWP would have access to the film before transmission’.” That is a red flag for any reputable reporter. It is simply unacceptable for the subject of a report to have any input into the way it is presented. But: “The BBC confirms that is the case, although it says it has ‘editorial control’.”
The first Metro propaganda ad will appear on the front of that paper at the end of the month and already people are planning a campaign to stop it polluting the opinions of impressionable members of the public.
Although Metro is read by 2.5 million people, it is a free newspaper and that means there’s nothing anybody can do about it if public-spirited watchdogs get to outlets first, scoop out every copy bearing the offensive advertorial, and recycle them before they can do any harm.
I don’t think binning them would be particularly useful, and I doubt burning them would be environmentally-friendly.
As for the BBC2 documentary, the best thing to do is simply not watch it. Boycott the channel while the documentary is being aired and encourage everybody you know to do the same.
And share this article so everybody knows the depths to which the Conservative government will sink. As a campaigner for Sheffield Stop and Scrap Universal Credit stated in the Chakrabortty article: “They could be spending that money on us, but they’re spending it to con us.”
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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