The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of misleading disabled people about its links to the disability organisation that organised a controversial accessible shopping event.
Disabled activists called last month for a boycott of Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, because of its close links with DWP, and concerns that CCTV footage of disabled people shopping could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.
When asked whether it had provided any funding for the Purple Tuesday initiative or to Purple itself, DWP said last month: “We have not provided funding to Purple but we have worked closely with them to facilitate Purple Tuesday and ensure it is a success.”
DWP also said that Purple “does not have any contract or agreement with DWP”.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has now established that both these statements were deeply misleading, while the first was untrue.
DWP has twice provided significant levels of funding to Purple – although not for Purple Tuesday – with the latest agreement for a programme run through the local jobcentre ending on 31 July and separate funding for a government disability employment programme ending in August 2017.
Disability Labour said it was “appalled, but not surprised” at the links between DWP and Purple.
Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It seems the DWP’s statements about its relationship with the Purple organisation have been less than truthful.
“We will be seeking to get this matter raised in the House of Commons.”
Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, added: “Any organisation led by disabled people that takes money from the DWP betrays disabled people.
“That is why we campaigned and will continue to campaign against Purple Tuesday.
“How can Purple be proud to work with the DWP, who have persecuted disabled people and caused the deaths of so many?”
Purple said last month that it had received “not one penny” from DWP for the Purple Tuesday campaign, which was “not government-led or involved or paid for in any shape or form”.
Mike Adams, Purple’s chief executive, confirmed this week that the organisation had received DWP funding, but not for Purple Tuesday.
He said he was comfortable that what he said last month was accurate but was “frustrated” that DWP’s statements “could have been seen as misleading”.
He said: “Purple Tuesday has not received one penny of government funding. Never has and never will and it is not a government campaign.
“The minister [Sarah Newton] likes it [but] they don’t own it, its not theirs.
“Separately, and very separate to Purple Tuesday, Purple has received funding for other… projects or initiatives from DWP.
“I’m comfortable in what I told you last month is absolutely crystal clear and I am comfortable that what [DWP] told you was correct, but I understand why it could have been seen as misleading.”
He said he was “frustrated” that questions were being unfairly asked of Purple, and he said he was “very proud” of the work Purple did on those two projects for DWP, and its work on Purple Tuesday.
In the wake of last month’s event, DNS had submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking how much funding had been given by DWP to Purple in each of the last three years.
It admitted in response: “We do hold information falling within the terms of your request.”
But it said it was delaying its response because it was considering seeking an exemption under section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act*.
DWP refused to answer questions about its funding of Purple this week.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “I’ve checked with colleagues on this and you’ll be getting the full response shortly [from the DWP freedom of information team] so I’m unable to pre-empt this.”
Adams said he was “surprised” that DWP had not spoken to him about the concerns this week.
He said: “I’m frustrated that DWP didn’t speak to me and agree that we could release the information. I don’t think it’s commercially in confidence.”
Purple is a community interest company which replaced the former Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which itself had become known as ecdp.
Many of Purple’s board members are disabled people, and the organisation provides training for employers, and works with disabled people to find jobs, recruit personal assistants and manage their direct payments.
As well as running Purple Tuesday, it also charges up to £10,000 to help other organisations become accredited under DWP’s Disability Confident employment scheme.
*Section 43 (2) relates to information that could prejudice an organisation’s commercial interests, and DWP says it will now consider if maintaining this exemption is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing the information
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…