The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been criticised by learning disability charity Mencap for using fake claimants in its benefit sanctions leaflet.
The DWP admitted to making up claimants and their stories for a leaflet on the positive impact of benefit sanctions, following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the website Welfare Weekly.
This move has been criticised by Mencap’s head of policy, Dan Scorer, who said the DWP’s attempts to mislead the public were “unacceptable.”
The leaflet included welfare claimant, ‘Sarah’, who talked about how having her benefit temporarily cut incentivised her to complete her CV.
Also included was ‘Zac’, who told his work coach in advance that he couldn’t make a meeting because he had a hospital appointment, so his benefit wasn’t cut.
In its response to the FoI request, the DWP said the images used were "stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants", according to Welfare Weekly.
The BBC reported that the DWP later said in a statement: “The case studies were used for illustrative purposes to help people understand how the benefit system works. They're based on conversations our staff have had with claimants. They have now been removed to avoid confusion.”
But the use of fake case studies has angered Mencap. “DWP's made up case studies present an unrepresentative view of the sanctions regime and its impact on disabled people,” said Scorer. “Benefits are a lifeline to many people with a learning disability who rely on them to make ends meet.
“We know many people have been sanctioned because Job centre staff don't understand their needs and place unrealistic demands on them while not providing support they need. To mislead the public on the effects of benefit sanctions is unacceptable.”
The Labour Party has also criticised the DWP. Stephen Timms MP, Labour’s Acting Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “You couldn’t make it up – but it seems 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.”