Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has called for Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation over the use of ‘fake quotes’ in a DWP benefit sanctions leaflet.
Welfare Weekly revealed earlier this week that a DWP sanctions advice leaflet, aimed at sick and disabled people at risk of their having their benefits stopped, included made-up testimonies from fake claimants.
The damning revelation, exposed through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, forced the DWP into removing the leaflet from its website. And red-faced DWP ministers have been repeatedly mocked by Twitter users, using the hashtag #FakeDWPStories.
The leaflet included two fabricated quotes from supposed Employment and Support Allowance claimants, ‘Zac’ and ‘Sarah’. Photos used beside the quotes were ‘stock photos‘ and have since been found in other Government publications.
Debbie Abrahams said: “This is yet another example of not only his incompetence, but what can only be described as very shady and unscrupulous behaviour not befitting a Member of Parliament let alone a Secretary of State leading a Government Department.
“Once again Duncan Smith is caught trying to paint a particular picture of social security claimants. He is a disgrace and should do the honourable thing and resign.”
In response to our FOI request, the DWP admitted: “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 Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR), who include civil servants among its members, is investigating whether any of its members were involved in the creation of the leaflet.
CIPR president Sarah Pinch said: “Falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support is a naïve and opaque technique which blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct. It is deeply disappointing if public relations professionals allowed it to be published.
“All CIPR Members are publicly accountable for the standard of their professional conduct, and the conduct of those under their management. This accountability is a valuable asset to the public, to Members and to those who employ them.
“Honest regard for the public interest; delivering reliable and accurate information; and never misleading clients, employers or others are vital components of proper professional practice.
“Any CIPR Member found to be breaking any of our ethical principles, will be held accountable for their actions.”