The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to explain its continuing failure to publish figures that would show how disabled people seeking to claim universal credit are experiencing the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
DWP is refusing to produce statistics to show how many universal credit claimants have been put through the WCA process, how long they have had to wait for a WCA, and what level of benefit they received following their assessment.
The failure to produce any figures comes more than eight years after the government began its lengthy and much-delayed rollout of universal credit, and despite a decade of concerns about the links between the assessment process and the deaths of disabled claimants.
This week, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, said she was “shocked” by DWP’s failure to produce the figures.
Last week, the minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, told Foxcroft in a written answer that DWP was “currently unable to provide Universal Credit (UC) WCA statistics as these could only be provided at disproportionate cost”.
But this answer came nearly three years after the then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, told Labour’s Stephen Timms that WCA stats for universal credit were “intended for publication in the near future as Official Statistics”.
It is not clear why DWP is still unable to produce the figures.
Foxcroft is also concerned about Smith’s failure to release figures that would show the size of the backlog of claimants waiting for a WCA – Smith said these figures were “unavailable” – and she has raised concerns about the backlog of assessments for personal independence payment.
DWP currently produces statistics for employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who have been put through the WCA.
But the number of universal credit WCAs is likely to be far higher than those taking place for ESA claimants, as the roll-out of the new working-age benefit slowly nears completion.
Foxcroft told Disability News Service: “I know from my own casework as an MP that many constituents have far too long to wait for their work capability assessments.
“Many disabled people and disabled people’s organisations have also raised this with me, and this is why I tabled a number of questions for the minister on this.
“Quite frankly I was shocked when I saw they didn’t hold this information.
“Their own disability strategy acknowledged the lack of data they hold on disabled people, but I hadn’t thought they wouldn’t hold this.”
She has now been forced to submit a freedom of information request to the department after ministers failed to answer her parliamentary questions.
She added: “The system clearly isn’t working and they need to get a grip on this. These long delays are having a negative effect on people’s lives.”
Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, said there must be a suspicion that the “disproportionate cost” DWP says would be involved in providing the universal credit WCA figures was actually the “scrutiny of the DWP’s actions and performance” that would result.
He said: “This official suppression of WCA statistics means that concerns over WCA delays remain anecdotal and more difficult to challenge.
“In addition, another concern is that, unlike ESA, universal credit (UC) claimants with a fit note have full work search conditionality for UC until their WCA takes place.
“This in turn may lead to unreasonable work search commitments and possible sanctions.
“It also hides the number of disabled claimants who are eventually found to have a limited capability for work but due to WCA delays have had full work conditionality unnecessarily imposed on them for several months.”
DWP refused yesterday (Wednesday) to say why it was still unable to provide universal credit WCA figures, and why it could not provide figures on the size of the WCA backlog.
But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “Our priority is to ensure the millions of people we support each year get the benefits to which they are entitled to as promptly as possible.
“Those waiting for a work capability assessment will receive support through the assessment rate of ESA or the standard rate of universal credit and any additional money owed to them following their assessment will be backdated.”
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