DWP accused of ‘shameful whitewash’ over DLA consultation responses


The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to break its promise to publish thousands of public responses to its controversial disability living allowance (DLA) consultation by the end of this year.

The DLA consultation took place from 6 December 2010 to 18 February 2011, but the government was subsequently accused of misleading parliament and the public about the scale of opposition to the reforms.

Now disabled activists are claiming DWP is resisting their attempts to obtain proof of the overwhelming opposition to its plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP).

Disabled activists who worked on Responsible Reform – published in January and also known as the Spartacus Report – had analysed the 523 responses to the consultation that were submitted by disabled people’s organisations, disability charities and other groups.

But they have so far been unable to examine the individual responses, which they believe will show just as strong opposition to the reforms, due to be implemented from April 2013.

The Spartacus Report found that 99 per cent of groups objected to DLA no longer being used as a “passport” to other benefits; 92 per cent opposed plans to remove the lowest rate of support for those with care needs; and nine in ten opposed plans for a new assessment.

But in the government’s response to the consultation, there had been no suggestion of such a high level of opposition to its plans.

DWP even claimed later that it had not carried out any basic statistical analysis of these and other answers to the consultation responses.

Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said in a letter to fellow peers that group responses had made up only 10 per cent of the consultation, and that the Spartacus Report had ignored nearly 5,000 individual responses.

He said all 5,000 had been “thoroughly and appropriately considered in the Government’s analysis and have been used to inform the design of the new benefit and supporting processes”.

In the wake of his comments, disabled activist Sam Barnett-Cormack used the Freedom of Information Act to ask DWP to publish these 5,000 individual responses. It promised to do so – “in tranches” – by the end of this year.

But so far, less than three weeks from the end of 2012, not a single response has been published.

Barnett-Cormack said: “It’s clear that the DWP is using any tactic they can to delay or prevent the release of these documents.

“I find it very unlikely, especially given the DWP’s behaviour, that the individual submissions will substantially change the picture we got from the group submissions – massive disagreement with the Government plan.

“The fact that the consultation was described by the Government as supporting their plan means, if our suspicions are correct, that the Government is perfectly willing to use dirty tricks and misrepresentation to support their ‘reforms’.”

Disabled activist Sue Marsh, co-author of the Spartacus Report, said the government’s failure to keep its promise was “disgusting and shameful”.

She said: “The government said these other responses would show that actually there was great support for PIP. I said they wouldn’t.”

She accused DWP of “whitewashing” the consultation, and has already warned that she will write to every MP and peer to tell them the government lied about the consultation responses if it fails to back up its claims.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why it had failed to meet its own deadline, and would not even admit the deadline had been set, despite Disability News Service sending her a copy of its own Freedom of Information Act response.

She said: “We are sorting through the 5,000 individual responses to the DLA consultation and intend to publish them in tranches on the website as soon as we can.”

13 December 2012