Absence of stats ‘is killer blow to government’s disability employment pledge’

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The failure to provide up-to-date figures showing how many disabled people are in work is a “killer blow” to the government’s pledge to move one million more disabled people into work by 2027, say campaigners.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has failed to publish figures on how many disabled people were in employment for the last two quarters of 2017.

The last published figures – drawn from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) – were published in August 2017, but ONS has suspended publication of further updates because of a “discontinuity” between figures from the second and third quarters of 2017.

This had made it impossible for politicians and campaigners to measure how well the government is performing on its disability employment target.

The two previous quarters, January to March 2017, and April to June 2017, had seen the number of disabled people in employment fall by more than 75,000, although it had risen by nearly 600,000 between April 2013 and June 2017.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, has written to John Pullinger, head of the Government Statistical Service, who has executive responsibility for ONS, to ask for an explanation for the failure to publish the “vital” statistics for the second successive quarter.

She wrote: “Of those who are out of work, the majority are talented and motivated people… But in order to remove the institutional barriers which stop them from working, we need up-to-date information.”

She said the figures were needed to judge whether the government was keeping to its 2017 manifesto commitment to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million.

She was one of two MPs who raised concerns about the failure to publish updated figures during last week’s House of Commons debate on disabled people and economic growth.

Dr Lisa Cameron, from the SNP, said: “It is particularly concerning that the Office for National Statistics has suspended publication of disability statistics from the Labour Force Survey. We should ensure that that matter is addressed.”

Philip Connolly (pictured), policy and development manager at Disability Rights UK, said: “The failure by ONS to maintain trend data is a killer blow to the enactment of the government’s promise to move a million disabled people into work and the government must remedy this to restore the credibility of its manifesto commitment.”  

New analysis by Professors Victoria Wass and Melanie Jones, of Cardiff Business School, both members of the [email protected] group of researchers, points out that the analysis of employment rates in the government’s Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy – which sets out its “route map to increasing the number of disabled people in employment” – is based on statistics from the LFS.

They – along with Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger – warned MPs on the Commons work and pensions select committee last year that previous “discontinuities” in 1998, 2009 and 2013 were preventing “a clear analysis of trends over a period of significant policy change”.

Wass and Jones said that further changes would “make tracking the Government’s aspirations almost impossible”.

ONS declined to say whether the suspension was because of an unexpectedly sharp drop in the number of disabled people in jobs, or an unexpectedly large increase.

ONS said in a statement: “ONS has suspended publication of these estimates for subsequent time periods due to an apparent discontinuity between April to June 2017 and July to September 2017.

“ONS is investigating this issue and the dataset will be reinstated as soon as possible.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the production of statistics on employment of disabled people, published in table A08 on the ONS website.

“The ONS is independent of government.

“Increasing the number of disabled people in employment is a key government priority.

“DWP agrees that to monitor these trends it is important that estimates are comparable over time, and any data concerns are investigated thoroughly.

“While DWP is a key stakeholder for labour market statistics, it does not play any part in collating or preparing the data.

“DWP maintains dialogue with ONS on the use of this data for national policy-making purposes.”