Government admits ‘hiding’ benefit cap stats


theweeksubThe government is refusing to say how many disabled people are having their benefits “capped” under its new welfare regime, even though it has the figures needed to make the calculations, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published research last month which showed how many people had been affected by the cap in the four trial areas of Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey, all London boroughs.

But it declined at the time to say whether it possessed any figures showing the number of disabled people who had had their benefits capped in the four boroughs.

An equality impact assessment published in July 2012 predicted that “roughly half” of the households who would lose out under the cap would contain someone classed as a disabled person under the Equality Act.

The new rules, introduced in the four boroughs in April and now rolling out across the country, restrict the total amount of benefits that working-age households can receive to £500 per week.

Households are exempt from the cap if they include anyone claiming disability living allowance (DLA), attendance allowance, the new personal independence payment (PIP), or the support component of employment and support allowance (ESA).

But disabled people with lower support needs are not exempt from the cap, including those in the ESA work-related activity group, and those receiving carer’s allowance, income support, child support and housing benefit.

Now, in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request from DNS, the government has admitted that it does possess figures which could be used to calculate how many of these disabled people were affected by the new cap in the four boroughs.

DWP’s freedom of information team says in the letter that the department “does hold some information falling within the description specified in your request”.

But the letter says that this information is in a different set of data from that used for the analysis of the pilot areas and “due to the complexity involved in linking together data from the different source systems we estimate that the cost of complying with your request would exceed the appropriate limit [for dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests]of £600”.

A DWP spokesman told DNS that to produce figures showing how many disabled people had been affected by the cap would be “a major piece of work”.

He added: “I don’t know how much that analysis would cost, or how much it would cost to find out how much it would cost. It is a piece of work we do not think we need to do.

“We obviously disagree [with DNS]on the level of importance. We say we are meeting all our responsibilities around publishing data around the benefit cap and making sure it is done on a regular and timely basis.”

He said DWP was balancing the cost of carrying out the work with the fact that an EIA was carried out last year and predicted the impact on disabled people.

Last month’s research found that, across the four trial areas, about 2,900 households had had their benefits capped at some stage by the end of June 2013, with three-quarters of them single-parent families.

At the end of June, more than 1,000 households were having their benefits capped by up to £50 a week, nearly 800 by between £50 and £100, nearly 400 households by between £100 and £150, and 33 by between £350 and £400.

5 September 2013