A new £8.5 million Government workplace pensions campaign, featuring a giant purple hairy creature, has come in for ridicule and been branded “childish”.
The fluffy figure named “Workie”, with huge eyes and horns, has been unveiled by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as spearheading a new multimillion-pound campaign to raise awareness of workplace pensions.
In a nod to Back to the Future Day, Workie was depicted online in a DeLorean car by government officials on Twitter, with the caption: “‘Pensions? Where we’re going we don’t need pensions… erm, actually you do.”
Responses to the picture on Twitter included: “What the hell is that?!” and “what a f****** shambles”.
Another user Tweeted: “#workie how childish!!”
The DWP confirmed that the total cost of the campaign, which includes TV, radio, print, online and outdoor advertising and will run into 2016, is £8.54 million.
It said this cost figure is in line with previous similar awareness drives. The new campaign, which is running the hashtag #DontIgnoreIt, is being coordinated jointly by the DWP and the Pensions Regulator.
Those behind the campaign, which was also retweeted by Prime Minister David Cameron, said the character is intended to be a “striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension”.
Workie will make his first TV appearance tonight at 7.25pm, during the ad break between Emmerdale and Coronation Street on ITV.
The drive is aimed at smaller employers and their employees as the next phase of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions gets under way.
As the scheme has rolled out, its focus has turned to the 1.8 million small employers who are being required to take action to help their staff to save into a pension.
The light-hearted ads will see Workie visiting people in all sorts of work environments, asking them not to ignore him.
But while Workie was described as cute and cuddly by some people online, other social media users questioned whether the imposing creature was intended to scare people who do not have a pension.
The cost of the campaign was also questioned, with some people describing Workie as a waste of money.
Pensions Minister 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.”
Workie also drew comparisons with characters from films.
In a reference to Star Wars, Tom McPhail, head of retirement policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, tweeted: “If the DWP now has its own version of the Wookie, does this mean @rosaltmann is Princess Leia?”
One Twitter user compared Workie with the characters from the film Gremlins, joking: “Just don’t get #Workie wet. You wouldn’t like it when it’s wet.”
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said the Government’s new campaign should “help get the message out to small firms to take action”.
He said: “The UK’s small businesses face very different challenges when enrolling their staff into a workplace pension compared to larger businesses, many of whom will have dedicated HR departments. Small firms are not pension experts and many will be reliant on clear guidance and support to comply with the requirements.”
Auto-enrolment into workplace pensions started in 2012, with larger firms. So far the scheme has been seen as a success, with around nine in 10 people staying in the pension they have been placed into – a figure which is higher than had been expected.
More than 5.4 million workers have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension by nearly 61,000 employers so far.
Under the scheme, people are automatically placed into a pension by their employer, provided they are over the age of 22 and earn more than £10,000 a year.
By the time the process is completed in 2018, an estimated nine million workers will be newly saving or saving more into a workplace pension.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that while the body welcomes efforts to raise awareness of workplace pensions, “ministers need to build on that commitment by bringing into workplace pensions the millions of workers, often part-time, low-paid and female, who are excluded from being automatically enrolled”.
Chief executive of the Pensions Regulator Lesley Titcomb said: “This campaign aims to raise awareness amongst small and micro employers that they cannot ignore workplace pensions.
“Our website and the letters we send out to employers have been updated to ensure they have clear information that is relevant to them and helps them understand what they need to do, and when, to comply with the law.”
Photo from Department of Work and Pensions / PA Wire