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ASA Advertising Public Sector

Government welfare advert universally discredited by the ASA


By John Glenday, Reporter

November 6, 2019 | 3 min read

A government advert intended to debunk misconceptions around Universal Credit welfare payouts has backfired after the Advertising Standards Authority deemed the public information piece to have peddled misconceptions itself.


Government universal credit advert discredited by the ASA

In all some 44 complaints were received relating to six newspaper ads and a webpage which included claims from featured individuals that they had been able to obtain employment quicker when enrolled in the catch-all benefits system, claims which were judged to ‘not accurately reflect the evidence’ by the ASA.

The propaganda pieces were conceived by The Department for Work and Pensions as a means to ‘set the record straight’ by communicating directly with the public via the Metro newspaper and Mail Online in which alleged ‘myths’ were dismissed with ‘facts’.

This led to four points of contention in which claims relating to flexibility of payments to meet rent deadlines or urgent needs were disputed, with the ASA making clear that such arrangements were only possible for a small number of claimants.

A further claim that ‘People move into work faster on universal credit than they did on the old system’ was also called out, with the ASA observing that the claim was based on people who had ‘worked for only a few hours’ rather than secured full-time work.

A fourth issue about the clear identification of the material as a marketing communication was also upheld in one instance amid concern that the webpage used was not sufficiently differentiated from editorial content to eliminate all ambiguity among readers.

Four of the newspaper ads and an associated webpage have now been banned from further use with the DWP instructed to ensure that it had ‘adequate evidence to substantiate the claims in its advertising’ in future.

The DWP has previously stood accused of 'throwing away' £315k on a Googlebox pension ad.

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