DWP deletes 'claimant' quotes from leaflet after admitting they were made up


Welfare officials have deleted a series of quotes from a benefits leaflet after being forced to admit they were made up.

The document carried pictures of two "claimants" next to what purported to be their personal accounts of positive aspects of the controversial sanctions regime.

But the Department for Work and Pensions was forced by the Welfare Weekly publication to concede "Sarah" and "Zac" did not exist and the images were stock photographs.

The DWP insisted the case studies were "based on conversations our staff have had with claimants" and were dreamed up "to help people understand how the benefit system works".

Initially DWP did not rule out continuing to "test" the original version alongside one where the pictures were silhouetted and a note was added that they were "illustrative".

However a spokeswoman said that approach had been abandoned.

"They have now been removed to avoid confusion," she said.

She insisted the department was "not aware" of any other examples of the practice being used in its publications.

Labour suggested the quotes had to be invented because no real people would be prepared to praise the policy of withdrawing payments for rule breaches.

In the leaflet, "Sarah" was quoted as expressing delight at having been persuaded to draw up a CV under threat of having her payments docked.

"My benefit is back to normal now and I'm really pleased with how my CV looks. It's going to help me when I'm ready to go back to work," the quote said.

"Zac" was more conscientious, telling readers he had not missed out on any benefits because "I had a good reason for not going to the meeting and proof of the appointment".

Responding to a freedom of information request from Welfare Weekly about whether the comments were genuine, the DWP had said: "The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only.

"We want to help people understand when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions. Using practical examples can help us achieve this.

"We have temporarily changed the pictures to silhouettes and added a note to make it more clear that these are illustrative examples only.

"We will test both versions of the factsheet with claimants and external stakeholders to further improve it in the future. This will include working with external organisations."

Acting shadow work and pensions secretary Stephen Timms said: "You couldn't make it up - but it seems (Work and Pensions Secretary) Iain Duncan Smith can. The only way he can find backers for his sanctions regime is by inventing them.

"Instead of fabricating quotes pretending the system is working, he should scrap unfair sanctions targets for jobcentre staff and do more to protect vulnerable people from facing benefit sanctions."