'Honesty from DWP' call by General Secretary
Baptist Union General Secretary the Revd Lynn Green was one of a number of signatories to an open letter sent to The Telegraph in response to the revelations that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been using fabricated stories to justify its imposition of benefit sanctions
On Tuesday (18 August) it emerged the DWP had admitted making up comments from supposed benefit claimants in a leaflet (below) about sanctions.
Responding to a freedom of information request by the Welfare Weekly website, the DWP said the names “do not belong to real claimants”, their comments were “for illustrative purposes only”, and that stock photos had been used. The leaflet has been subsequently withdrawn from the government’s website.
Mrs Green joined church leaders in writing to The Telegraph, and their letter was published on Thursday (20 August).
It is astonishing that the Department for Work and Pensions fabricated disabled peoples’ testimonies, giving the false impression that claimants believe the sanctions system to be helpful and fair. It is also deeply disappointing that the DWP has chosen to defend its use of false stories as ‘illustrative’.
When claimants are allowed to speak for themselves the stories they have told us are very different. The system has been described as “unjust”, “brutal” and encouraging “a culture of contempt” towards sick and disabled claimants. These quotes are both real and illustrative of system which urgently needs to be changed.
We are among a broad range of faith groups, charities and professionals calling for a full review of the sanctions system, to examine real evidence from real people.
Other signatories included The Most Rev Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales; The Rev Steve Wild, President, Methodist Conference; Dr Jill Barber, Vice-President, Methodist Conference; Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind; Niall Cooper, Director, Church Action on Poverty; The Rev John Proctor, General Secretary, United Reformed Church; and The Rev David Grosch-Miller, Moderator, United Reformed Church General Assembly.
Following publication of the letter, Mrs Green said, ‘We recognise that there are a variety of views about how our welfare system should function, but whatever our opinion, it seems reasonable to expect that it is founded on truth, honesty and openness.
‘These values lie at the heart of our Christian faith and need also to lie at the heart of our public life as a nation if people are to have confidence in our systems and processes of government.’
The Joint Public Issues Team, which brings together Baptists, Methodists, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland to help local congregations engage in public life and be a prophetic voice in our society, has been consistently calling for a review of benefit sanctions.
In March it released a report (alongside Church Action on Poverty and the Church in Wales) entitled Time to rethink benefit sanctions, which cited how sanctions were affecting vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.
Its 2013 report Truth and lies about poverty highlighted how statistics are misused by both government and some sections of the media to create a narrative that key factors driving poverty are the personal failings of the poor.