The minister for disabled people has told MPs it is too expensive and too much effort to produce statistics about key parts of an assessment system linked to hundreds, and probably thousands, of deaths over the last decade.
Chloe Smith told the Commons work and pensions committee yesterday (Wednesday) that ministers had no intention of producing figures that would show what happened to claimants of universal credit who have been put through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
Despite ministers launching universal credit in 2013, DWP has yet to provide any statistics to show how many claimants have been put through the WCA, how long they have had to wait for a WCA, and what level of benefit they received following their assessment.
Even though the WCA system has been closely linked by years of evidence to countless deaths of disabled people over the last decade, DWP only produces statistics relating to employment and support allowance (ESA) and the WCA.
Most non-working disabled people are now receiving universal credit rather than ESA, which is slowly being phased out.
Following an email from Disability News Service, the Office for Statistics Regulation, the UK’s statistics regulator, has written to DWP and is still waiting for it to explain why it has yet to provide these statistics.
SNP’s Chris Stephens asked Smith yesterday: “What’s preventing the department publishing data on the outcomes for universal credit and the work capability assessment?”
But Smith (pictured, above right) told him that work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had written to the committee and “explained that there are no plans to develop the official statistics on universal credit claimants going through a WCA”.
She added: “We will be keeping that position under review but as she said very clearly, she anticipates there will be fewer resources available and is not going to be committing to developing new statistics at this stage.”
When Stephens pushed her for a “compelling reason” not to publish the figures, she said: “We do have to take a broad overview across all the effort and resources that needs to be deployed on the various functions, only one of which is the production of data.”
Smith also told the committee that DWP’s planned white paper on disability benefits was now expected to be published in September.
Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the committee, told Smith that a survey carried out by the committee as part of its inquiry had received 8,500 responses from people who had been through the assessment system, with those responses “overwhelmingly negative about the experience”.
Smith said the most recent DWP customer experience survey showed 82 per cent of customers were fairly satisfied or very satisfied with the overall service they received.
Stephens also asked the minister why it had not yet implemented the promise it made to the committee in 2018 that it would introduce “default” recording of all personal independence payment (PIP) assessments.
He said that Capita and Atos, the outsourcing companies that carry out the assessments on behalf of DWP, had told the committee as part of its inquiry that they were waiting for the department to decide if there should be “opt-in” recordings – where claimants could choose in advance to have their assessment recorded – or an “opt-opt” system, where a PIP assessment would automatically be recorded unless the claimant asked for it not to be.
Smith said DWP was currently “running a model to give people the option of requesting in advance or record it themselves using whatever device they like”, which meant an opt-in model, and that it was “not intending to move to an opt-out model”.
Katie Farrington, DWP’s director general for disability, health and pensions, said there “may be a question” over whether DWP was notifying claimants “as clearly as possible” about the option to record their assessments and that it would continue to look at whether this could be improved.
Stephens also asked why the department did not automatically send claimants a copy of their assessment report, rather than only sending one on request.
He said: “It sounds like a case of DWP not wanting to send it. I’m struggling to find a reason why any claimant wouldn’t want their assessment report with their decision letter.”
But Smith said: “I’m endeavouring to run a system that gets the quickest decisions to the largest number of people at all times.”
She said that sending reports to all claimants “risked slowing the system down for everybody”, although she said the issue would be covered in the white paper.
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