DWP admits to using fake case studies to communicate impact of welfare changes

The Department for Work and Pensions has been forced to admit to using comments and images from fake claimants in a leaflet designed to demonstrate the positive impact of a controversial government policy.

Sarah's story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact
Sarah's story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact

Professional body the CIPR is now looking into what involvement any of its members had in producing the leaflet.

The revelation came in response to a Freedom of Information request from online journal Welfare Weekly, which questioned whether comments used in a leaflet explaining official benefit sanctions were genuine or fake.

Under the policy, benefit claimants can have benefits docked for up to three years for a variety of infractions including failing to attend meetings or leaving a job voluntarily.

The leaflet included comments from various supposed benefit claimants including Sarah and Zac, who had been affected by benefit sanctions. In the leaflet 'Sarah' said: "I didn't think a CV would help me but my work coach told me that all employers need one. I didn't have a good reason for not doing it and I was told I'd lose some of my payment. I decided to complete the CV and told my work coach."

However in a statement the DWP admitted that neither Zac nor Susan were real claimants. "The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only," it told Welfare Weekly. The journal also reported that within days of the FOI request, the original information leaflet disappeared from the Government's website – although Welfare Week had already made a copy – telling it that this was "to avoid confusion".

In a statement to PRWeek it said: "The case studies were used for illustrative purposes to help people understand how the benefit system works. They're based on conversations our staff have had with claimants."

Sarah Pinch, president of the CIPR, said that "falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support" was a "naïve and opaque technique that blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct".

She added: "Any CIPR member found to be breaking any of our ethical principles will be held accountable for their actions."

The revelation comes in the same week that PR agency Fuel was accused of using one of its employees in a 'real life' case study for anti-perspirant manufacturer Odaban that appeared in national newspapers including the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and the Huffington Post.

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