MPs are to use their parliamentary powers to force the publication of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report that found disabled benefit claimants had widespread “unmet needs”.
The action follows the repeated refusals of work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey (pictured) to hand over the document to the Commons work and pensions select committee.
Stephen Timms, the committee’s chair, said they had “reached the end of the road”, following Coffey’s “repeated obstruction”.
The Labour MP has now written to social research agency NatCen, which wrote the report, asking it to release The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits.
Timms said: “We would have much rather the DWP had done the right thing and published the report itself, so it is with regret that we must now take the highly unusual step of using our parliamentary powers to obtain a copy from NatCen and publish it ourselves.
“We have been forced to do this to ensure that the reality of disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system can see the light of day.”
A whistleblower told Disability News Service (DNS) last month how the report had been watered down on DWP orders after its authors concluded that claimants of disability benefits had “unmet needs”.
After being shown the first draft of the report, DWP had told NatCen to reduce the number of references to “unmet needs” and to delete some of its analysis.
Coffey has refused to publish the report, despite it being watered down, and promises made to 120 disabled claimants who took part in the research that it would be published.
Her latest letter to Timms, insisting again that she had no intention of publishing the report at present, was sent on 10 January.
The whistleblower, who is close to the team that prepared the report, described Coffey’s latest letter as an “extraordinary snub” to the committee and described its tone as “dismissive, aggressive and contemptuous”.
They said: “I hope we are approaching the end of this sordid tale, but I fear that the secretary of state may still try to thwart the committee in some way.
“She talks about ‘protecting a private space for policy development’ but this is a desperate smokescreen because she is scared that the testimony of disabled people about their lived experiences of social security benefits will undermine her plans for reform.
“The report has been suppressed purely to stifle debate and to silence the voices of disabled people.
“Let’s hope the select committee can end this disgraceful saga soon.”
Two days after Coffey’s latest letter to the committee, and after being asked about the report by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, prime minister Boris Johnson told MPs that the government would publish the report “as soon as we can”.
When asked afterwards by DNS for clarification of this response, which differed from Coffey’s letter to Timms, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “Protecting a private space for policy development is important and we are currently considering a range of policy options, drawing on wide evidence, research and analysis.
“We will publish as soon as we can once this policy work has concluded.”
The government now appears to be claiming for the first time that it might be willing to release the report after its disability benefits white paper is published later this year.
A NatCen spokesperson said: “We received new correspondence from the work and pensions select committee regarding this research on 12 January 2022.
“We will respond directly to the committee in due course.”
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