The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been using figures that downplay the economic benefits of the Access to Work scheme, while pretending to rely on other figures that paint a more positive picture.
Disability organisations – and government ministers – have for years been illustrating the positive benefits of Access to Work (AtW) by pointing out that for every £1 spent on the scheme, the Treasury receives £1.48 back in taxes paid and lower benefits claimed.
But DWP civil servants are now using another figure – £1.18 – while pretending that they still stand by the old number.
The controversy is important because of concerns that the government could be looking for excuses not to expand spending on AtW, or could even be planning to make cuts.
The figure of £1.48 was used by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, in her report on employment support for disabled people in 2011, and dates back to calculations made by RNIB in 2004, which were themselves based on government figures.
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request about the figure of £1.18 – whether it is being used internally by DWP and how it was calculated – a civil servant confirmed that the information “is held by the Department”, but that it was refusing to release it “because it relates to the formulation or development of government policy”.
The civil servant concluded that “on balance, DWP is satisfied that in this instance the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.
When Disability News Service (DNS) approached DWP to ask why it was using the £1.18 figure instead of £1.48, a DWP spokeswoman said: “In her review of specialist disability employment provision, Liz Sayce quoted a study that found for every £1 spent on Access to Work, £1.48 was returned to the Exchequer.
“The department is undertaking work to update this and whilst that work is in progress, we are not using or quoting any alternative figure.”
But DNS has subsequently confirmed that at least two people – including Sayce herself – have heard senior DWP civil servants quote the £1.18 figure.
One was Helen John, a DWP deputy director, in a speech at a seminar, and the other was Rilesh Jadeja, head of AtW delivery, who stated in a meeting on 16 April that DWP was now using the £1.18 figure internally.
So far, the DWP spokeswoman has failed to explain her statement to DNS and why she claimed the £1.18 figure was not being used within the department.
Ellen Clifford, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Changes to Access to Work are pushing Deaf and disabled people out of work, undermining employability, causing misery and distress and destroying careers.
“At the same time, the DWP are refusing to be transparent and engage with questions over savings made… through investment in AtW and how that fits with their drive to reduce support packages.
“This is a clear ideological agenda to punish anyone who depends on support coming through the state that will exclude Deaf and disabled people from the right to employment.”
Sayce added: “When I was doing my review DWP accepted £1.48 as the best available evidence.”
She pointed out that the £1.48 figure only refers to immediate savings through higher taxes paid and fewer benefits claimed, and doesn’t include the wider economic benefits of AtW, such as reduced hospital admissions and lower use of other health services.
She said: “If the government thinks the figure is different from £1.48 they need to publish what they think the figure is, and that should include all the savings across government.
“If the figures are changing we need to understand where they come from and why there is any change.”
She added: “This programme needs to be viewed as investment in people being able to get jobs, keep jobs, and develop their careers, not as a budget that needs to be ‘managed’.”
19 June 2014