THE UK Government spent more than £4 million attempting to “airbrush” the crisis-hit Universal Credit system last year, with advertising spending ballooning by 700% in just two years.

According to figures obtained by a freedom of information request, the Department for Work and Pensions spent a total of £4,059,109 advertising Universal Credit in 2018-19 – compared with just over £511,227 in 2016-17.

The biggest percentage increases were in the digital and outdoor advertising categories as the DWP threw its full weight behind convincing the public that Universal Credit was operating smoothly and efficiently.

Earlier this week the Advertising Standards’ Authority agreed to launch a formal investigation into the DWP when it was pointed out to them that adverts which appeared in several national and local newspapers were “deliberately misleading”.

The ASA were prompted to take action after a host of complaints about allegedly myth-busting content that appeared in newspapers and online.

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The Disability Benefits Consortium, a national coalition of more than 80 charities and other organisations, pushed the ASA to begin investigating by insisting there was “clear evidence” the adverts seemed to take no account of some people’s actual experience of being “driven into debt, rent arrears, food banks and homelessness”.

The litany of complaints included it not being immediately obvious the ads had been produced by a UK Government source while making claims that omitted significant restrictions that would be likely to affect a person’s decision to apply for Universal Credit.

The claims, presented as facts, included people moving into work faster than they did on the old system, the payment of urgent cash advances by Jobcentres and payments directly into landlords’ accounts if preferred. Most of the claims are open to challenge; for example there is no mention that any advance will result in reduced future benefits.

The latest FOI figures demonstrate that the media and advertising campaign designed to convince people that Universal Credit is not the fatally flawed system its many critics suggest has put significant amounts of financial resource behind the UK Government’s message.

Bob Doris, SNP MSP for Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, said: “These figures are frankly insulting for those struggling on Universal Credit – an ill thought-out welfare scheme which has forced families into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks and destitution.

“The DWP has ploughed ahead with the botched roll-out of Universal Credit, despite all the warnings they’ve received.

“Now they’re trying to airbrush the utter failure of their flagship welfare policy – spending millions of taxpayers’ money on a one-sided advertising campaign which is now under investigation for being misleading.

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“Rather than face up to the overwhelming criticism of their botched reform and fix Universal Credit, the Tories have decided to push their PR operation into overdrive.

Westminster have shown us time and time again that they are totally out-of-step with the needs and priorities of Scotland. The Tory Government clearly can’t be trusted to look after the most vulnerable in society.”

A DWP spokesperson explained that advertising activity had increased as Universal Credit reached full roll out at the end of 2018, including making sure parents know they could claim back up to 85% of their childcare costs.

The spokesperson said: “As Universal Credit has rolled out to more than two million people this advertising has made sure they understand how to claim their benefits and how the new system works.”