The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ensured an independent report was watered down after it concluded that claimants of disability benefits had “unmet needs”, a whistleblower has revealed.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been told that DWP made it clear that it did not like the analysis and reporting of disabled people’s unmet needs and the implications for future spending on benefits.
DWP has refused to publish the watered-down report, despite promises made to more than 100 disabled benefit claimants who had agreed to be interviewed that it would be published.
The report, The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits, was commissioned to feed into DWP’s green paper on disability benefits, Shaping Future Support, which was published in July.
But the green paper made no mention of the report.
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, DWP 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, said: “It was obvious to me that the findings about unmet needs and adequacy of benefits were not what the government wanted to hear.”
They said that the final version, which was submitted to DWP in September 2020, had far fewer references to unmet needs.
Despite managing to weaken the report, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey continues to insist that it cannot be published.
That refusal appears to be a clear breach of the government’s own protocol, Publishing Research and Analysis in Government (PDF), which states: “There must be no opportunity – or perception of opportunity – for the release of research information (unfavourable or not) to be altered, withheld or delayed for political reasons.”
The whistleblower’s revelations will add to mounting evidence that ministers plan significant cuts to spending on disability benefits, and that they are desperate to avoid any evidence that disabled people currently have significant unmet needs.
The NatCen report was based on interviews with 120 benefit recipients about their experiences of receiving personal independence payment, employment and support allowance and universal credit, how they use their benefits, their unmet needs, and their quality of life.
The source said: “I have read the report and concluded that the government’s argument that it is not in the public interest to publish it is entirely spurious.
“The indication is clearly that some of the findings do not support government policy and so DWP have blatantly suppressed them, dishonestly hiding behind the Freedom of Information Act.
“Denying access to the report is unjustified, cowardly, and an insult to the 120 disabled people who took part in the research in good faith, trusting in the promise that they would be able to read the report.
“That faith and trust has been wholly betrayed by the government.”
They added: “I think there is a story here of extreme government arrogance that in my view shows an astonishing level of contempt for disabled people and for parliament.”
Carole Ford, from the WOWcampaign, said: “It is outrageous if not unexpected that the government should treat disabled people with disrespect.
“It is shameful that the government is prepared to break its own protocol and interfere with an independent report.
“We can only guess that the motive of the government in commissioning the report was to make it appear helpful and concerned about the unmet needs of disabled people – in other words a piece of propaganda.
“Hopefully the government will be questioned in parliament about this.”
WOW’s Michelle Maher added: “The suppression of a negative report on unmet needs mirrors every attack on disabled people over the last 11 years.
“They are refusing once again to make public the plight of disabled people.
“Hiding a report behind the Freedom of Information Act mirrors 11 years of Tory refusals to assess the impact of all cuts on disabled people as a duty of care.”
Both Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, and the Labour peer Baroness [Ruth] Lister, have publicly raised the failure to publish the report.
But Coffey has insisted, in a letter to Timms, that she has no intention of publishing the report, because “it is important to protect the private space within which Ministers and their policy advisers can develop policies”.
A NatCen spokesperson said: “The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) does not comment on the nature of individual survey commissions and contracts because we operate within a commercial environment.
“Timings for publication of our research findings are at the discretion of the commissioner of the research.”
A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on whether the whistleblower’s allegations were accurate.
But she said in a statement: “The government considers a broad range of analysis and evidence to support the formation of all its policy, including that which is both internally and externally commissioned.
“It is not necessary to publish all of this material, and the government does not have plans to publish the NatCen report at this time.”
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