The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is claiming not to possess documents that show estimates for the eventual impact of universal credit on disabled people, despite telling both the statistics regulator and MPs that they exist.
In the latest stage of an apparent attempt to hide estimates of how many disabled people will lose out financially through the introduction of universal credit, DWP has told Disability News Service (DNS) that no such written equality impact assessments (EIAs) exist from 2012 onwards.
The freedom of information response contradicts a statement made to MPs by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.
It also contradicts information passed by DWP to the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR).
This week, OSR promised DNS that it would investigate the apparent discrepancy.
The existence of any fresh EIAs is important because ministers, including work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey and Tomlinson, have stated on several occasions that around one million disabled households will receive a higher entitlement under UC than they would have received under the previous “legacy” benefits system.
But every time they repeat the figure, they fail to say how many disabled households are expected to receive a lower entitlement under UC.
DNS has been trying to secure updated figures showing the impact of universal credit on disabled benefit claimants from DWP for more than 14 months.
The latest freedom of information request submitted by DNS asked for copies of all equality impact assessments carried out by DWP relating to the introduction of UC.
But DWP’s response says the information has already been published by the government, and points to three websites: an initial assessment published in November 2010, an assessment of the impact of the welfare reform bill, published in October 2011, and a series of assessments carried out through 2011 and 2012.
The latest published equality impact assessment is dated November 2011, and suggests that the number of disabled households gaining financially from UC would be at least matched by the number losing out (with about 800,000 households in each group), with disabled people who are out of work particularly likely to lose out.
But Tomlinson told Labour MP Neil Coyle on 1 October 2020 that DWP had published an EIA for UC in 2011, “which stands overall, although in line with ministers’ legal duties equality impacts have been considered on all major changes to universal credit”.
DWP has also told OSR that there is “an unpublished impact assessment that was written before the roll out of Universal Credit was complete”, and which it used to estimate the “one million disabled households” figure.
DNS expected this unpublished assessment to be released by DWP in response to the freedom of information request, but DWP only included links to previously published assessments.
The latest published impact assessment on universal credit – although it is not an equality impact assessment – was released in December 2012 and admits that “some disabled people could be entitled to less under Universal Credit than under the current benefits scheme”, although it provides no details.
Asked what had happened to any further EIAs and why DWP would not release them, the department refused to comment, but it did not deny that it had been untruthful.
A DWP spokesperson said DNS could now complain to the information commissioner.
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