The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to publish secret reviews that should reveal whether the government’s welfare reforms were to blame for any of the deaths of 49 benefit claimants.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been waiting since last November for DWP to decide whether it will release details of the 49 internal “peer reviews” that have been held since 2012 following the death of a benefit claimant.
But it has now decided that it will not release the reviews, or their conclusions, recommendations or summaries, even in redacted form.
DWP originally suggested that it was concerned that releasing the information under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) could prejudice “the maintenance of the convention of the collective responsibility” of ministers; inhibit the “free and frank provision of advice”, or the exchange of views, for the purposes of deliberation; or would be likely to prejudice the “effective conduct of public affairs”.
But it has now come up with a new explanation for not wanting to publish the reviews.
In a response to DNS today (Thursday), DWP said it feared that releasing the reviews – even with personal details redacted – could breach section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.
This act makes it an offence for anyone employed in social security administration to “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.
DWP argues that the personal information in the peer review report is covered by section 123.
A member of DWP’s central freedom of information team adds in the response: “Disclosing the content of these reviews, even in anonymised and summarised form, may still allow individuals to be identified.”
DNS now hopes to appeal the DWP decision to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The DWP response is just the latest apparent attempt by the government to prevent details emerging of the impact of its social security reforms on disabled people.
DWP originally stated, in an FoIA response, that it did not hold any records on deaths linked to, or partially caused by, the withdrawal or non-payment of disability benefits.
Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, later told DNS that he did not “accept the premise” that DWP should collect and analyse reports of such deaths.
But the Liberal Democrat DWP minister Steve Webb appeared to contradict Harper when he said the following week that when the department became aware of worrying cases “they do get looked at”.
A DWP spokesman finally told DNS last October that it did carry out reviews into individual cases, where it was “appropriate”.
DWP then admitted, in another FoIA response, that it had in fact carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths since February 2012.
It was later forced to apologise and correct this response, and confirm that the department had in fact carried out 49 peer reviews “relating to the death of a claimant”.
But it has continued to resist releasing the reviews or their summaries, recommendations or conclusions.
19 February 2015