Universal Credit staff have announced a two-day strike with a blast at DWP “propaganda” about the benefit.
Call handlers in Wolverhampton and Walsall will strike on May 28-29 in protest at workloads and staff shortages.
It is the second walkout in three months from the workers – who want 5,000 new staff, permanent contracts and limits on the number of phone calls per manager.
Yet hours before it was announced, a leaked DWP memo revealed chiefs plan to “bust myths” about the benefit with an advertising campaign – at a major cost to taxpayers.
The PCS union, which represents the workers, accused the DWP of trying to “cover up” the very failures its strike is focused on.
General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Instead of trying to solve this ongoing dispute over workloads and recruitment, Ministers are spending thousands on a propaganda campaign to promote a failed Universal Credit system.
“It is shameful that the minds of minsters are not focused on claimants or staff but instead on covering up for their own abject failures.
“This strike will send a message that we as a union will not stand idly by while our members are treated with contempt and ministers run Universal Credit into the ground.”
Details of the leaked DWP memo first emerged in a Guardian column and it has since been verified by the Mirror.
Ministers have repeatedly had to make changes to Universal Credit over payment delays and flaws that were driving hard-up claimants to food banks.
Yet the memo, signed by three top civil servants including UC Director General Neil Couling, focuses on “negativity and scaremongering” that discourages people from accessing help.
The memo reveals chiefs have planned a “regular feature” in the Metro newspaper lasting more than nine weeks to “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.
It is due to launch this month with a full front page advert and four-page advertorial to “explain what UC is and how it works in reality” and follow a day in the life of a work coach, the memo said.
The memo said “the features won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding, and this is deliberate.
“We want to grab the readers’ attention and make them wonder who has done this ‘UC uncovered’ investigation.”
Advertising Standards Authority guidelines say advertisers “must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications, for example by heading them ‘advertisement feature’.”
The memo added: “We hope this provides a timely rebuttal to some of the negativity we see, and it is part of our more confident, front-footed strategy to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC.”
The memo also reveals every MP has been invited to their local Jobcentre, and the DWP is working with BBC2 on a documentary series that will film inside three Jobcentres.
“We have just signed a contract with the BBC to allow them to do more extensive filming inside some of our jobcentres around the country,” the memo says. It is unclear what this contract entails or whether it is some form of standard-issue contract used when filming.
The DWP memo boasts the series will be “a fantastic opportunity for us” and “we’ve been involved in the process from the outset.”
It adds: “We continue working closely with the BBC to ensure a balanced and insightful piece of television.”
A DWP spokesman refused to comment directly on the memo, but said: “It’s important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise Universal Credit.
“All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
The timing of the strike and the leaked memo within 24 hours are a coincidence.
The decision to stage industrial action – approved in a ballot in February – is not linked to the memo.
274 PCS members at the two centres were entitled to vote. Of the 153 who voted, 138 (90%) voted to strike.
It comes four years since 1,300 Universal Credit staff staged a 48-hour walkout in protest at the “oppressive” workplace culture.
A DWP spokesman said: “We are disappointed that the PCS in Walsall and Wolverhampton has taken this course of action.
“Planned meetings with the union are ongoing and our priority is ensuring there is no disruption to our customers.
“Our frontline staff deliver vital support to around 20 million people across the country and we are committed to supporting them in their roles, including by monitoring staff levels and making sure their caseloads are manageable.”