Last Tuesday (13 February), the DWP Press Office tweeted: "Claiming to be living alone is one of the most common types of benefit fraud - don't ruin #ValentinesDay by failing to declare your true circumstances."
An accompanying GIF of a heart-shaped hot air balloon with a romantic couple in the basket asked: "Declaring your true love tomorrow? Don't forget to declare your true living arrangements too. Don't get separated from your Valentine. Tell us of a change now."
As well as stirring up a hornet's nest of social-media ire, national media outlets including the New Statesman responded angrily to the social comms. A piece on the magazine's website was particularly angry about a link included in the tweet to a Daily Express article about benefit fraudsters, while the publication cited figures that suggest the amount of benefits paid out to scammers is minimal and offset by underpayments.
The DWP told PRWeek that previous similar campaigns tied in with calendar dates had not caused such a strong reaction. A spokesman added: "We regularly use significant dates in the calendar to help communicate our policies and did so for a number of issues on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t intend to offend anybody."
But offence was clearly taken by the likes of The Huffington Post, which described the tweet as "unpleasant" and "exceptionally misjudged".
Claiming to be living alone is one of the most common types of benefit fraud – don’t ruin #ValentinesDay by failing to declare your true circumstances https://t.co/tZuNYZ5fer pic.twitter.com/ahutOO6NUy— DWP Press Office (@dwppressoffice) February 13, 2018
But the most vociferous responses to the DWP's push were angry tweeters, who have described the campaign as "a strong entry from the DWP for the most ill-judged Valentine-related social media campaign award" and "a nadir in DWP comms".
Another was more crude: "Happy Valentine's Day you lonely, lawbreaking shits," it read, while other tweets riffed on the romantic rhyme 'Roses are red, violets are blue', adding their own couplets.
Roses are red— Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) February 13, 2018
violets are blue
There's literally nothing
that the DWP won't do https://t.co/gn6M9pgRWU
Another tweeter called the DWP’s social campaign: "So cynical. So judgemental. So threatening."
So cynical. So judgemental. So threatening. Despite overwhelming evidence that the DWP is, in fact, depriving thousands of people of their rightful benefits through mendacious sanctions & bureaucratic incompetence, the dept still feels justified in this sort of shaming PR stunt.— Nicola Spurr (@NicolaRSpurr) February 13, 2018
The Express piece gave examples of fraudsters, including a Leicester woman who wrongfully received £83,370 in benefits by falsely claiming she was single.
The article also quoted James Blake from the DWP's counter-fraud and compliance directorate. "Relationships have their ups and downs but not telling us when your circumstances change is a crime and the shameless few involved are deliberating diverting money away from those who really need it," he warned.
"True love may be hard to come by but benefits cheats aren’t difficult to track down."
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