8 May 2003
Having last week released partial, and largely meaningless, statistics about its controversial disability living allowance (DLA) and attendance allowance (AA) trials, the DWP is now refusing to provide any more detailed information. This sudden shyness is raising fears that the department have some very unpleasant news they wish to hide.
Trials are currently taking place in Bristol and Glasgow using extremely short claim packs for DLA and AA. The shortfall in written information from claimants is supposed to be made up for by decision makers proactively telephoning claimants and carers for more details. Last week, the respected Child Poverty Action Group published an article "'Simpler, clearer and fairer': DLA claim reform" which included a collection of incomplete statistics purporting to show that the DWP's cost cutting AA trials had been a success. (See CPAG publishes pro-DWP spin on DLA and AA trials).
Included in the statistics was the information that '81.4% of new claims were successful in the trail period compared to 80.4% in the preceding period.' In addition, the article claimed that 'The number of telephone calls by decision makers increased by 40% from 2945 in the period October to December 2001 to 4117 in the same period 2002.' We contacted the DWP press office on Friday 2nd May quoting these statistics and asking a number of specific questions, including:
· How many fresh claims for AA were dealt with in each of the two periods?
· What proportion of awards were for the lower rate and what proportion for the higher rate?
· Is there any breakdown of these calls? How many were to claimants, support workers, etc? What counts as a telephone call? For example, if they couldn't speak to the right person was it still logged as a call?
Today, disconsolate at not hearing back from the press office, we phoned them only to be told: "We don't have any more information". When pressed as to whether the information was being kept confidential and not released to the public, they merely reiterated "We don't have any further details."
The DWP must know how many fresh claims were dealt with, they couldn't calculate the proportion of successful claims otherwise. If the number went up considerably in the trial period, this would mean that many of the additional calls by decision makers might be accounted for solely by an increase in claims rather than an increased desire to speak to claimants. Likewise, the DWP must know how many awards were for the higher rate (£57.20 a week) and how many were for the lower rate (£38.30 a week) of attendance allowance. If the proportion of higher rate awards has dropped, this would radically affect the judgement of whether the trials were a success for claimants. Finally, either the DWP has got a breakdown on who calls were made to or their figures for increased phone calls are worthless - the calls might not even have been about AA.
Meanwhile, members of the Modern Service Working Group, a collection of civil servants and representatives of disability organisations whose role is to 'ensure that the changes meet the needs of and are in the best interests of disabled people' are largely silent. Either they don't have access to detailed statistics and so cannot possibly judge whether the changes are in anyone's best interests or they do have access, but are keeping the information away from the public. Either way, now is not the time to feel confident about the future of DLA and AA claims.
Members of the Modern Service Working Group, October 2002
Citizens Advice (formerly National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux)
Disablement Income Group
Rethink (formerly National Schizophrenia Fellowship)
Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation
Royal National Institute of the Blind
Royal National Institute of the Deaf