Universal Credit (UC) in the Metro
1. ‘There are a lot of myths out there about it. We set the record straight...’
a) ‘You will have to wait 5 weeks to get any money’ is stated to be a ‘myth’. The minimum delay of five weeks cannot accurately be described as a myth. It was the situation for several years until comparatively recently and was a deliberate policy in part to discourage immediate claiming1 2 and in part to make payments later as doing so was said to reflect the world of work . It can still only be avoided by claiming an advance payment as a loan, which is a recent workaround policy in response to valid criticism.
Presentation of this is a ‘myth out there’ misleads, as it wrongly suggests that valid criticism of UC for including this wait was being invented, or at a minimum levelled at the system unfairly.
b) ‘UC makes it harder to pay rent’ is stated to be a myth. This misleads by giving the impression that payment of rent is no harder on UC. Payment is significantly further in arrears than legacy benefits. Advances are repayable immediately by deductions, so do not prevent it being harder to pay rent, as the person will simply have less money. As above, advances are a recent workaround to prevent total destitution at the start of a claim, but do not prevent claimants being worse off due to the longer shift towards payment in arrears.
c) ‘People move into work faster’. This is misleading and inaccurate because it suggests that the same claimants on UC would move into work faster than they would on legacy benefits, and/or that UC causes people to return to work. The higher uptake of work on UC is explained by the different claimant group that has been moved onto it at this point. The people with the highest barriers to work have moved onto UC more slowly. All the claimants moved onto UC in its early years were single people with no barriers to work, who would have returned to work anyway3.
d) ‘If you take a job you lose UC’. This is misleading by suggesting this is a widespread criticism of UC that people are making. This is not a myth that is ‘out there’. It is an obviously misguided criticism included solely to give the impression that criticisms made of UC are widely invalid and poorly argued (‘scaremongering’), rather than addressing the legitimate criticisms of UC that are being made.
Clarity of origin
a) Although there is a line at the top of the pages stating ‘ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS’, its presentation in smaller font and in all capitals makes it harder to read at a glance than standard text. While this may not have mattered had this been clear from the context anyway, when there are essentially two competing stories for the origin of the piece this is an unfair technique to draw focus from it.
b) The disclaimer is contradicted by the overall presentation of the article. The headings ‘uncovered’, ‘guide to’, ‘your questions answered’, ‘4 page special’ are not consistent with an advertisement. The overall tone as a whole is misleadingly presented as a journalistic investigation into UC that unexpectedly uncovered a positive picture for the Department.
c) An intention to disguise the origin of the piece was stated by the Department. “We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC uncovered’ investigation.”4
d) The voice of the writer is not consistent with an advertisement.‘We’ set the record straight, but ‘your jobcentre’ will pay you (not we) misleadingly suggests that the piece is written by a Metro reporter.