The DWP admits it made up benefit claimant case studies in sanctions leaflet

In response to an FOI, the department said the case studies were for "illustrative purposes" only. 

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Until it was removed a month or so ago, an information leaflet available for download on the Department for Work and Pensions website offered rousing stories of benefit claimants prompted into action by sanctions. One case study, Sarah, was sanctioned for failing to make a CV, which pushed her to go ahead and do it. "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,” she is quoted as saying. The story was illustrated with a photo of a smiling blonde woman.

However, the response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by Welfare Weekly has revealed that the comments from Sarah and the other case study were not, in fact, real - and didn't even come from real claimants. Here is part of the DWP's response, which you can read in full in the Welfare Weekly exclusive:

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."

The photo used to accompany Sarah's story was also used on an apparently DWP-run Universal Credit tumblr page. 

The DWP removed the leaflet from its website shortly after the FoI request was submitted, and in the response says the photos have been replaced with "silhouettes" in a new version of the leaflet. The department intends to test the two versions with "claimants and external stakeholders" to, presumably, see if the made-up case studies could be misconstrued by readers.

Last year, the department was also accused of planting fake tweets after this was tweeted from the official DWP account, then swiftly deleted:

Twitter users speculated that an employee intended to tweet the message from a fake claimant account, but tweeted it from the official one instead. A DWP spokesperson said this was "utter, utter rubbish", and said the tweet was meant to include a photo of a case study, "Natalie", a Universal Credit claimant from Wigan. Another "illustrative" example, perhaps. 

 

Update 16.20: 

A DWP spokesperson has sent us the following 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.”

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.