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Church leaders 'astonished' by benefits leaflet

28 August 2015

department for work and pensions

Fake: a screen shot of “Sarah’s story”, from a leaflet issued by the Department for Work and Pensions

Fake: a screen shot of “Sarah’s story”, from a leaflet issued by the Department for Work and Pensions

THE “fabricated testimonies” used in a leaflet on welfare produced by the Department for Work and Pensions have been condemned by church leaders.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, joined the leaders of the Methodist Conference, Baptist Union of Great Britain, and United Reformed Church in describing the production of the leaflet as “astonishing”, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph last week.

The leaflet came to light after a freedom-of-information request by the website Welfare Weekly secured confirmation by the Department that the testimonies in it — which included that of “Sarah”, who said that a cut to her benefits had encouraged her to improve her CV — were not those of real claimants. The Department said that stories were for “illustrative purposes only”. It admitted that stock photos were used, Welfare Weekly said.

“When claimants are allowed to speak for themselves, the stories we have heard are very different,” the Telegraph letter reads. “The system has been described as ‘unjust’, ‘brutal’, and encouraging ‘a culture of contempt” towards sick and disabled claimants.’”

The signatories, including the heads of Mind, and Church Action on Poverty, are calling for a full review of the sanctions system.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said this week that he had not seen the leaflet before its production, and that the officials who produced it could face disciplinary action. The testimonies were “drawn as a summary from real-life cases, but it wasn’t a real-life case”. It was “quite wrong” to use them.

In a speech at the centre-right think tank Reform, on Monday, Mr Duncan Smith said that the Coalition Government had inherited a “sickness-benefit culture” in which “significant numbers of people saw work as something completely alien to them and their families”.

He had since overseen “the most successful back-to-work programme we’ve ever seen”, he said; there were now nearly two million more in work.

The next drive, he said, would be to get more disabled people into work, reducing the number on sickness benefits — 2.5 million — by a million.


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