The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to release figures showing how many disabled people will lose out when universal credit (UC) is fully implemented, even though ministers have repeatedly stated how many will gain from the new system.
DWP’s failure to release the figures is now being examined by the statistics regulator, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), after its attention was drawn to the DWP refusal by Disability News Service (DNS).
OSR is already assessing the quality of some of the other benefits statistics produced by DWP*.
DNS has been trying for more than nine months to persuade DWP to release figures that would show how many disabled people are expected to lose out in the move to the new, delayed and much-criticised universal credit system.
The latest attempt by DNS, in June this year, told DWP that ministers had made clear that around one million disabled households would receive a higher entitlement under UC than they would have received under the previous system.
The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, made exactly that comment last October, telling Labour’s Debbie Abrahams: “Around one million disabled households will gain, on average, £100 a month on universal credit compared with legacy benefits.”
But after DNS asked in the freedom of information request how many disabled households would receive a lower entitlement under UC, DWP said in its response that it “does not have the information to be able to answer” the question.
It also said it would be too expensive to say how additional monthly payments would vary for those who would previously have received the various disability premiums through the employment and support allowance (ESA) work-related activity group, but were now receiving payments as part of the equivalent UC group.
When asked about DWP’s failure to provide the information, an OSR spokesperson told DNS this week: “OSR is considering the issue.”
Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “It’s time DWP ministers come clean about the data they hold.
“If they are able to confirm who will be better off under universal credit compared to legacy benefits, they should also be able to tell us who will be worse off.
“The department will not truly understand the impact of universal credit on disabled people without clear data.
“The DWP need to urgently fix this issue and be honest with disabled people about the changeover to universal credit.”
Campaigners also demanded to know why DWP was being allowed to say only how many disabled people would benefit from the move to UC, but not how many would lose out.
Freedom of information campaigner John Slater, who has spent years probing DWP for information about UC, said: “The DWP talks about having a ‘transparency agenda’ for universal credit.
“However, it is now clear that this means information only being released on terms set by the DWP.
“This means it decides what information is placed in the public domain and when.
“Sadly, the DWP claiming that it would cost too much to provide information that might be critical is all too familiar and should worry us all.
“As Lord Jenkins of Putney put it in a debate about the security services in 1986: ‘I consider it wrong to deprive the electorate of information about the processes of government, for where they are bad they remain bad and get worse in the dark.’
“The DWP has been rightly criticised about its use of misleading statistics and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that it’s trying to mislead people about the impact that UC is having on disabled people.”
Welfare rights expert Nick Dilworth was also highly critical.
He said: “There was a time under the ESA regime where you could learn quite a bit about the impact of the treacherous work capability assessment upon disabled people.
“Previously, there was more data available, allowing for more of an assessment upon disabled people to be made in general, but in the DWP’s overly positive promotion of universal credit it is exceptionally disappointing to see data reduced to a point where meaningful analysis is made far more difficult, if not impossible.
“It is no longer acceptable for the DWP to be calling these [universal credit] data sets ‘experimental’.
“UC has been in place since 2013 and as such we should be seeing a much greater range of information so we can truly assess the real dangers people face under a system which has time and time again been shown to be failing disabled people.
“Disabled people deserve far better than this.
“UC is meant to be a digital revolution; it is astonishing that the DWP seem unable to extrapolate more information than is currently freely available.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to answer questions about the freedom of information response.
DWP is also accused of failing to provide other key statistics about the impact of its policies on disabled people.
Although it publishes figures showing how many ESA claimants in the work-related activity group are having their benefits sanctioned – with the proportion of claimants falling sharply between 2014 and 2019 – it is continuing to refuse to publish equivalent figures showing how many disabled people have been sanctioned after being placed in the equivalent UC group, for those with limited capability for work.
*OSR’s assessment of the quality of benefits statistics includes DWP’s figures on ESA, disability living allowance and housing benefit, but not personal independence payment, UC or benefit sanctions. The deadline to send comments to OSR is 21 August.
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