MPs are preparing to grill secretary of state for work and pensions, Therese Coffey, on 29 June about nine reports that should have been published as long ago as 2017, but which the DWP is desperate to keep secret.
The chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, Stephen Timms, has written to Coffey, this month asking for an explanation as to why the reports have not been published.
He has warned that the DWP’s lack of transparency in failing to publish the reports risks undermining public trust.
The letter lists the reports in question and asks for a response before the meeting takes place. The documents the committee wants made public are:
Internal Process Reports (IPRs) on deaths of benefit claimants. The DWP is refusing to publish the recommendations made in these reports, making it impossible to monitor whether the DWP is acting on them or simply covering them up. If the DWP is serious about reducing the harm its activities do to claimants, you would expect them to want to demonstrate the lessons they have learnt and the steps they are taking.
Statistics for the results of work capability assessment (WCA) for UC. There are comprehensive statistics for the WCA for ESA, and for the results of PIP assessments. The DWP have been promising to publish similar ones for UC since 2017, but still they remain secret. It raises the possibility that the rate at which people are found capable of work is higher for UC, even though the tests are virtually identical. Alternatively, it may be that the DWP wants the freedom to start adjusting the WCA for UC and finding many more claimants capable of work in the future, without anyone being aware that it is happening.
Benefit sanctions. The DWP agreed, at the request of the work and pensions committee to carry out an evaluation of ‘whether the sanctions regime within Universal Credit is effective at supporting claimants to search for work’. The department said it would publish its findings in 2019. It is now refusing to do so on the grounds that the final report ‘did not present a comprehensive picture of sanctions.’ It seems very likely that the report failed to find any evidence that sanctions were effective and this is why it is deemed to not be ‘comprehensive’. Given that UC sanctions have now reached a record level, publication of this report is vital.
UC Programme Board papers. These include research findings relating to the move from legacy benefits to UC. Although the DWP originally said it would publish these it is now refusing to do so, even though the programme to move legacy benefits claimants to UC has now begun and the findings would be of major public interest.
Cabinet Office Research on Universal Credit. The committee are particularly interested in a paper entitled ‘How effective is the support for vulnerable claimants of UC?’. Once again the DWP are refusing to make the findings public and, once again, they would be of vital public interest as hundreds of thousands of vulnerable claimants are moved from ESA to UC.
The impact of UC on employment rates. The DWP began studying a group of claimants in 2018, but will still not reveal any of the results of that research.
An evaluation of the impact of the lowered benefit cap. This was completed in 2019 but has still not been published.
A report on the effect that carer’s allowance has on people’s ability to work. This was due to be completed in summer 2020, but there is still no sign of it.
Monthly reports on how many DWP websites do not meet accessibility standards. These have been requested via Freedom of Information Act requests, but the DWP is refusing to release them.
It is ironic that, at a time when the DWP is repeatedly misusing the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act to hide documents from public scrutiny, it is also to be given the power to search homes, seize documents and arrest claimants.
A massively secretive and unaccountable organisation being given ever increasing powers to destroy lives, what could possibly go wrong with that?
You can read the full text of the letter from Stephen Timms on the subject of secret reports here.