Work and pensions ministers have refused to answer scores of questions from MPs on issues that are vital to disabled people, research by Disability News Service (DNS) has revealed.
In the last six months, ministers have repeatedly argued that they cannot answer written parliamentary questions because of the “disproportionate cost” or because the information is “not collated centrally”.
The excuses used by Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, and his colleagues mean they have been able to avoid providing important – and potentially embarrassing – information about the government’s performance on social security.
It also means the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has prevented the release of information that could reveal holes in the social security safety net that is putting disabled people’s lives at risk.
Last month, employment minister Guy Opperman told Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, that he could not say how many benefit claimants had declared to DWP staff their intention to attempt suicide or self-harm because the information was “not collated centrally”.
Also last month, Pursglove told Labour MP Marsha de Cordova that DWP was unable to say how many recipients of disability living allowance (DLA) had their claims ended because they failed to return their re-assessment form, as answering the question “would incur disproportionate cost”.
Last month, DNS reported on the death of Laura Winham, who had her DLA stopped in 2016 after she failed to respond to requests to apply for the new personal independence payment.
It is believed she died the following year, in November 2017, and at the time had access to just a handful of loose change. Her body was not discovered for more than three years.
Other questions DWP ministers have refused to answer include the average length of benefit sanctions, the number of work capability assessment decisions for universal credit claimants that are being overturned on appeal, and how much DWP spends on running jobcentres.
Ministers have also been unable to say how many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) stopped receiving ESA because they found work.
Pursglove told Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, in January that this information “could only be provided at disproportionate cost”.
Last September, Ashworth was told by the then employment minister Victoria Prentis that DWP could not say how many universal credit claimants had seen their payment reduced to nothing because of a sanction in each month of 2022 because this would “incur disproportionate cost”.
And last November, Opperman was unable to tell Labour’s Rachael Maskell how many universal credit (UC) claimants could not update their online journals – a crucial condition of continuing to receive UC – because they did not have internet access.
Opperman told her: “The information requested is not readily available and to provide it would incur disproportionate cost.”
Foxcroft told DNS this week: “It is becoming increasingly obvious that there are unacceptable gaps in the data held by the DWP.
“These gaps make it incredibly difficult to understand the full impact government policy is having on disabled people.
“I raised this very issue at work and pensions questions on Monday [6 March] when I asked the minister to investigate the shocking increases in the number of PIP claims disallowed for non-return of the AR1 review form.
“A Labour government will be transparent with all data and reports to ensure we get things right.”
DNS reported last month that Pursglove had refused to investigate why the number of disabled people whose disability benefits were stopped when they failed to return the AR1 form rose by more than 450 per cent in four years, after telling her and de Cordova that DWP does “not collect information on the causation of a failure to return the AR1 review forms”.
But he told Foxcroft this week that he would “take the point away and look at it further”.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We adhere to all relevant parliamentary protocols when preparing answers to parliamentary questions, including application of the disproportionate cost limit where appropriate, and are not obliged to create new information in order to provide answers.
“Parliamentarians can raise any issues with parliamentary question performance with the procedure committee.”
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…