Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey has been given a “final chance” to release a report that found disabled benefit claimants had “unmet needs”, before MPs use their powers to publish it themselves.
Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, has written to Coffey to warn her that she has until 11 January to publish the report, which was commissioned by her own department.
A whistleblower told Disability News Service (DNS) earlier this month how the report had been watered down on DWP orders after its authors concluded that claimants of disability benefits had “unmet needs”.
Coffey has refused to publish the report, The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits, despite it being watered down, and promises made to 120 disabled claimants who took part in the research that it would be published.
Now, after a series of attempts to persuade Coffey to publish the report, Timms and his cross-party committee have run out of patience.
He says in his letter to Coffey that the committee is “not persuaded that your decision not to publish the research is justified” and that if she does not publish it by 11 January, “we will use the power given to us by the House [of Commons] to require NatCen to provide us with a copy of it” and then “publish the report ourselves”.
The report was written for DWP by NatCen (The National Centre for Social Research), Britain’s largest independent social research agency.
After being shown the first draft of the report, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had told NatCen to reduce the number of references to “unmet needs” and to delete some of its analysis.
The whistleblower, who is close to the team that prepared the report, has previously said that it was “obvious” that the “findings about unmet needs and adequacy of benefits were not what the government wanted to hear”.
They told DNS this week: “The letter from the select committee makes it crystal clear that the suppression of the NatCen report is totally unacceptable.
“The secretary of state has blatantly flouted the government’s own rules on publishing research, betrayed the trust of the 120 disabled people who took part in the research and shown contempt for parliament in the responses made to the legitimate requests of the select committee.
“The committee has had to resort to extreme measures to ensure that the findings on unmet needs and benefit levels are made public as they should have been over a year ago.
“Stephen Timms and his colleagues deserve our thanks for that.
“Ebenezer Scrooge had a famous change of heart one Christmas; let’s hope the secretary of state does the same.”
Timms said in a statement that Coffey had “consistently failed to give the committee a good reason why this piece of research should not be made public”, and that she “even admits that it falls within the government’s own protocol for publication”.
He said: “The continued refusal to publish the results of the research, as promised to the participants who gave up their time, will do further damage to disabled people’s trust in the department – which is already in short supply.
“The secretary of state now has a final opportunity to think again and publish the research.
“If not, the committee is firmly agreed that we will be left with no choice but to publish the report ourselves.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The secretary of state has received the letter in question and will respond in due course.”
Picture: Coffey appearing to smirk at DWP’s permanent secretary while giving evidence to the committee earlier this month
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