The Metro newspaper has been criticised over a print advert for the Government’s controversial Universal Credit welfare system described as “propaganda” and an “insult to all disabled people”.
The four-page advert in today’s Metro and a page for the campaign hosted on the Mail Online website claim to “uncover” the truth about Universal Credit while hitting out at reporting of the scheme’s flaws.
The Universal Credit system rolls six benefits into one payment including the working tax credit, housing benefit and child tax credit.
In February the Department for Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd admitted that an increase in food bank use was linked to its troubled rollout and a report published late last year said disabled people could be left £300 worse off under the scheme.
The DWP advert in the Metro claims to “set the record straight” on “myths” surrounding Universal Credit, adding: “A lot has been written about Universal Credit recently – not all of it correct, sadly.”
Inside the four-page advertorial spread, a DWP “work coach” took a further jab at media reporting of the scheme.
She said: “I find it frustrating to hear the negative stories in the media – if you just listened to what’s reported, it’s not surprising people think Universal Credit doesn’t work.”
A strapline on the ad campaign’s Mail Online page adds: “We’re bringing you the real stories from the frontline of Universal Credit – the stories you don’t get to read about in the news.”
The advert for Universal Credit has landed on the same day UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston published a report on the UK that said the scheme was “fast falling into Universal Discredit”.
Ann Galpin, chair of the National Union of Journalists disabled members’ council, described the campaign as propaganda.
She said: “It’s not 1984, attempts by the Government to push out propaganda cannot go unchallenged.
“We are appalled that these misleading wraparounds and features have appeared in the Metro today, coinciding with the release of Philip Alston’s report on poverty in the UK, which heavily criticises austerity and welfare reform.”
The NUJ national executive committee representative Natasha Hirst added that the adverts were “an insult to all disabled people” and journalists who have “ethically reported” on their stories.
She also described the adverts as “inaccurate and misleading” campaigns.
A Metro spokesperson said: “Metro is a non-partisan newspaper, which carries advertisements for a range of clients, including Government departments and unions.
“Metro takes advertising standards seriously and requires our advertisers to comply with all laws and the Advertising Standards Authority code.
“The Department for Work and Pensions has informed us that the advertising was reviewed by the ASA’s Copy Advice Team prior to publication. Metro is happy with this process.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise Universal Credit.
“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
An internal memo detailing plans for the Metro advertorial on Universal Credit was leaked to The Guardian last week.
It reported that the campaign would include a wraparound front page advert from the DWP.
Several journalists have taken aim at the DWP advertorial in Metro on social media:
I’ve never seen this before: a government press release/advert on its much criticised Universal Credit dressed up as 4-page investigative news report, basically framed around the ‘fake news’ narrative. pic.twitter.com/Z9sQV8GDWu
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) May 22, 2019
The text marking this as an “advertisement feature” is far too small. https://t.co/qIO0W6BGC8
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) May 22, 2019
alarmingly not at all obvious this is an advert paid for by the govt – signposting around advertorials has always been a little hazy from a reader's POV but this is next level https://t.co/DEFCGS1zZW
— Sophie Gallagher (@SCFGallagher) May 22, 2019