Civil servants used fake studies saying benefit sanctions helped claimants in their search for work
Bosses at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have admitted faking case studies in which benefit claimants pretend they are happy to be sanctioned.
The bizarre admission was made after the department was challenged over a guidance brochure in which two case studies featuring two “claimants” say how the sanction system was keeping them motivated to find work.
The leaflet included pictures of “Sarah” and “Zac”, who were presented as sickness benefits claimants who had their some of their benefits withdrawn or had been threatened with benefit removal.
The lie was exposed after a freedom of information request asked for the names of the case studies and whether they were real benefit claimants.
Civil servants admitted the bogus claimants were used for "illustrative purposes only" although they were based on real stories told to JobCentre advisors.
The DWP has had to endure a tidal wave of criticism and mockery on social media as well as a deluge of condemnation by politicians, charities, campaigners and trade unions.
It is disgraceful and sinister that the DWP has been trying to trick people into believing claimants are happy to have their benefits stopped - Mark Serwotka
Jeremy Corbyn, who is tipped to become the new Labour party’s leader, said: “The fact that the DWP has to make up quotes from benefit claimants saying sanctions are helping them, presumably because they can’t find anyone who says they are, not only shows how out of touch the Tories are, but also the effects their ideologically driven policies are having on people’s lives.”
Unite’s assistant general secretary, Steve Turner it was “a shameful attempt by Iain Duncan Smith to bend the truth and gloss over the human misery of his cruel sanctions regime.
He added: “In the last two years, more than two million people have been sanctioned, often for just arriving minutes late to a meeting or, in some circumstances, for attending a family funeral.
“This has left people destitute and unable to heat their homes or feed their kids. Iain Duncan Smith should be scrapping his heartless sanctions regime rather than trying to defend them through made-up quotes and fictional characters.”
The Public Commercial Services Union said that it would write to the DWP to complain that it was irresponsible of the government to invent the stories to “illustrate the contentious belief that sanctions are welcomed by claimants”.
The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “It is disgraceful and sinister that the DWP has been trying to trick people into believing claimants are happy to have their benefits stopped or threatened. Sanctions are unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive, and should be scrapped.”
Mencap, the disability charity, said the case studies present an unrepresentative view of the sanctions regime and its impact on disabled people.
A spokesman said: “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 jobcentre 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 in this way is unacceptable.”
The DWP said: "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".