If the government always had to observe ASA guidelines…

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) decision against the Department for Work and Pensions’ misleading advertising about Universal Credit is welcome, and requires amplifying by as many people in as many forums as possible.

The DWP published adverts in the Metro (a free paper available at railway stations) and on the Daily Mail‘s website that claimed:

  • People moved into work faster on universal credit (UC) than under the old system
  • Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it
  • Rent can be paid directly to landlords under UC

The ASA looked into these claims and upheld complaints about all of them*. A government department, staffed by supposedly neutral civil servants serving more or less willingly Conservative party spads and ministers, spent taxpayer money to tell their target audience (commuters) things that are untrue about a policy that affects the most vulnerable and frequently poorest people in society. Put more bluntly, they spent public money lying to the public.

In my day job, I have the ASA and its guidelines in mind constantly. I copy-edit, word by word, to ensure the company I work for never misrepresents the products it sells. The pains we take to be transparent and honest are the reason I feel comfortable working there. If the government was forced to abide by ASA standards in the House, on TV and radio and during press conferences, rather than just when producing their squalid marketing trash, none of them would be able to say anything at all beyond “Good morning”.

This advertising material from the DWP – and it was advertising, and it was from DWP, not the Conservative party directly – was egregiously, deliberately untrue, and so very damaging for people who have genuine reason to fear for their futures. If you live with a disability or long-term illness, or even if you’ve only read about people dying of terminal illnesses after being declared fit for work and having been denied UC and had their incomes taken away, it’s mystifying how the Tories could attract any share of the vote at all when this is the depth to which they have sunk.

There is a word for knowingly telling untruths about the most vulnerable people in society. That word is evil. We must punish them for it the only way we can: at the polls.

 

*The complaints were:

  • “People move into work faster on Universal Credit than they did on the old system” – no actual evidence to support this could be found. Complaint upheld
  • “Jobcentres will pay an urgent advance to people who need it” – “urgent”, if within five weeks can be considered urgent. Upheld
  • “Your Jobcentre can pay rent directly to landlords” – misleading, because it only applies to a small number of claimants. Upheld

A complaint that the adverts were not clearly identified as adverts was partially upheld. There was a disclaimer, but in very small type.

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