But will it Workie? Cost of DWP’s £8.54m pensions mascot criticised

Workie, the star of the DWP's new pensions campaign
Workie, the star of the DWP's new pensions campaign
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The launch of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) multi-million pound auto-enrolment campaign has met with mixed reviews.

This afternoon, pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann unveiled Workie, a 10-ft multi-coloured animated creature that the Department said is “a striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension”.

Workie will feature throughout the campaign, appearing tonight on ITV between Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

The campaign has cost the DWP £8.54m.

Baroness Altmann said: “This is a fun and quirky campaign but behind it lies a very serious message.

“We need everyone to know they are entitled to a workplace pension – and we need all employers to understand their legal responsibility to their staff, but also to feel more positive about engaging with workplace pensions.”

Twitter users were quick to question the cost effectiveness of the campaign, particularly in light of the welfare cuts being made by DWP.

Iain Grant, tweeting as @highlandcharge, said: “Unbelievable that whilst freezing benefits and slashing tax-credits the DWP wasted £8.45m on a CGI monster.”

An article by blogger @johnnyvoid calling Baroness Altmann “an embarrassment” was shared by a number of users under the campaign’s own #dontignoreit hashtag.

David Brooks, technical director at Broadstone Corporate Benefits, said he had doubts the costly campaign would grab the attention of small business owners.

He said: “While comparisons with other furry animals in adverts are valid to an extent, it is unlikely the government can afford the sort of blanket coverage which has created household familiarity for the Meerkats.

“I fear the £8.5m price tag will be targeted if the strategy fails, when it could have been spent on a different approach involving more direct communications with employers, rather than hoping busy people running small businesses are paying attention to adverts between Emmerdale and Corrie.”

There was some support from the pension industry, as experts welcomed DWP’s efforts to promote auto-enrolment to the 1.8 million businesses who will have to provide workplace pensions in the next three years.

Tom McPhail, head of retirement policy at Hargreave Lansdown, told The Yorkshire Post: “The auto-enrolment programme is too important an element of the reforms to the pension system for it to be allowed to fail.

“This is why the last Government didn’t exempt small employers, even though there were obvious ‘red tape’ arguments for doing so.

“The Workie concept may be alien to what we’re accustomed to seeing from government departments but if it is successful it will have been money well spent.”

However, Mr McPhail added that the Department should publish its research “supporting this use of public money”, and also how it will measure the success of the campaign.

John Allan, national chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said it is “encouraging” to see the DWP and The Pensions Regulator providing extra information resources for small businesses, many of whom will be tackling pensions for the first time.

He said: “Clear guidance and information are both vital to ensure small businesses understand what they must do.

“Today’s Government awareness campaign should help get the message out to small firms to take action.

“The online step by step guide for employers should make it easier for small businesses to work out what they need to do to comply with the legislation and when.”

The FSB declined to comment on the cost of the Workie campaign.

Tonight, Workie - which the DWP said is “a striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension” - will appear on the nation’s TV screens to remind small business owners and workers that they will soon be affected by auto-enrolment legislation.

Since 2012, more than 5.4 million workers have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension by almost 61,000 employers. By 2018, it is estimated that around nine million workers will either be newly saving or saving more into a workplace pension, the DWP said.

The campaign will include radio, print, online and outdoor advertising and will run for the remainder of this year and into 2016.