Ian Duncan Smith has shafted benefits claimants after failing to adequately promote sweeping changes to the welfare system caused by the switch over to Universal Credit.
A Freedom of Information request by The Canary has revealed his Department for Work and Pensions has spent just £242,966 on promoting Universal Credit since it was introduced – £8.25 million less than it splashed out on one TV advert plugging pension reforms in late 2015.
The paltry sum was spent on targeted advertisements the DWP says aimed to “increase awareness” of the policy after it was rolled out in targeted areas in April 2013.
Universal Credit merges six benefits into one which, according to the government, will simplify the welfare system so people will always be better off in work.
But one fuming claimant spoke of how she went through “months of hell” after the changeover, claiming she’d never even heard of Universal Credit before she was suddenly stripped of her benefits under the new rules.
When Charlene Hewlett moved in with her partner, job centre advisors said her benefits would be stopped until she submitted a new joint claim for Universal Credit under both their names.
Mum-of-one Charlene was in receipt of Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credits and Jobseeker’s Allowance – all of which she needed to find work, eat and put a roof over her head.
But with no time to put money aside in anticipation of the switch, the couple were left penniless for more than three months while their claim was processed.
They struggled to put food on the table and, after falling two months into rent appears, were threatened with eviction.
Charlene, from Stourport in North Worcestershire, said:
I had never even heard of Universal Credit until my partner moved in from Manchester where it has already been rolled out.
We were told that I would have to join his claim, and being one of the first couples in our area to claim Universal Credit, it was a nightmare.
Nobody knew anything, and our claim was never joint, so each month we would have to ring up to ask where our payment was as they only paid him for a single claim.
I liked the old fashioned benefit system because you knew where you were with it. Myself being a single parent at the time knew what I would get.
Now you don’t know anything and we hardly get letters from them telling us what payment to expect and if the housing had been paid.
The couple’s claim eventually came through and Charlene’s partner was able to pay the bills and rent arrears after securing a part time job on a zero hour contract.
They now receive £90-a-week through their joint Universal Credit claim.
According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, up to 2.6 million working families stand to lose £1,600 from the changes, while 1.9 million would be £1,400 better off.
If one parent works full-time and the other part-time, they would be £1,866 worse off on Universal Credit, a report found.
Charlene, who works part time, said:
We seem to cope but I can’t speak for everyone – I would rather go back to the old system though as you know that if you are on a low income you get support.
It’s as if they are trying to make things harder for the people trying to better themselves and make an honest living.
A couple of months ago we literally had nothing – we went through three months of hell.
We are not benefit scroungers, myself and my partner both work but rely on Universal Credit for support until we find full time work.
Charlene’s plight comes after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) came under fire for splashing out £8.5m on one TV ad plugging pension reforms in late 2015.
The 40-second advert features a fluffy monster named Workie whose role as the “striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension” was intended to raise awareness of a new law obliging small businesses to automatically enroll workers into a pension scheme.
The astronomical figure pales in significance to the DWP’s modest Universal Credit ad spend, raising questions over the government’s priorities in promoting changes to all areas of the welfare state.
According to a report from the Resolution Foundation, up to 10 million families are likely to be impacted by Universal Credit, while the government says in-work pension reforms will benefit a further 3.6 million workers by 2018.
First implemented in April 2013, Universal Credit was piloted in four areas – including Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington – where certain claims were replaced by the new system.
It has now replaced all benefits in more than 500 job centres nationwide after the changes were fully rolled out in April 2014.
It is being introduced in stages throughout the UK, with the roll out across all job centres expected to be complete by 2017.
Hitherto, the three-year advertising campaign has seen the DWP spend £37,630 on Facebook advertising, £44,896 on posters and other outdoor advertising, £14,097 on press advertising and £146,343 on other targeted online advertising.
Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Gateshead, has slammed the benefits changes as “an attack on the working poor”.
Speaking to ChronicleLive, Anderson, a vocal critic of the changes, said:
These cuts are the government’s escape route from George Osborne’s dreadful tax credit attack on the working poor.
Yet again it is those least able to afford to lose money who are being hammered by this government which stands up for the wealthy.
Benefit cuts for the poorest workers; inheritance tax bungs for the children of dead millionaires.
In response to Anderson’s comments, a DWP spokesperson said:
This is irresponsible and misleading scaremongering, which fails to reflect the fact that transitional protections put in place by this Government will ensure that there will be no cash loss for anyone being moved from tax credits onto Universal Credit.
The truth is that Universal Credit is transforming lives across the country, with claimants more likely to move into work and earn more.
Universal Credit is fundamentally different to tax credits – and includes a wide range of additional support that is not offered under the legacy system.
A spokesperson for the DWP has also explained their Universal Credit promotion strategy.
The Department’s approach to communicating Universal Credit mirrors that of the regional rollout to Jobcentres.
All activity therefore targets specific areas where Universal Credit is available, and aims to increase awareness of the additional support available and provide practical job search tips to help people find work more quickly.
Paid advertising is supported by a range of no-cost activity including press, social media and partnerships to increase the reach and effectiveness of paid communications.
You can’t polish a turd, but there are times you should roll it in glitter
For a ruling party that prides itself on slick PR and polished media messaging, the Tory’s reticence to promote Universal Credit is a tacit admission of its failure.
Admittedly, it was always going to be a tough advertising brief to tackle. From incessant delays and transitional cash losses to frequent IT malfunctions, it’s no wonder the DWP has taken the cloak and dagger approach to policy implementation. But it didn’t need to be sexy, nor especially engaging – far more important was its ubiquity among its target audience.
In their unwillingness to promote the policy, the government have left millions of working families – the very people they claim to defend – in the dark over “the most radical overhaul of our welfare system since its inception”. Meanwhile, they’ve frivolously shoveled millions of pounds into superficial vanity projects while they carry out more and more ruthless cuts.
In a sense, you can hardly blame them for keeping shtum about Universal Credit: a policy that promised so much and delivered so little. But unceremoniously pulling the rug from under claimants’ feet is not only duplicitous, it undermines the social contract our democracy relies to function.
Sweeping changes and cuts to the UK welfare system are penalising the most vulnerable in our society. To help mitigate these effects, you can:
– Volunteer with Turn2us, a national charity that helps people in financial hardship-Join Facebook groups such as
– Join Facebook groups such as Universal Credit Survival to support benefits claimants, share information and have your say
Featured image screen shot via BBC Parliament