The UK statistics regulator has refused to criticise work and pensions ministers even though they have repeatedly breached its code of conduct by misleading parliament about the impact of universal credit (UC) on disabled people.
Ministers including work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey and Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, 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 lose out when UC is finally rolled out.
Disability News Service (DNS) first approached the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) about the failure nearly three months ago, after DWP refused to release the figures in its response to a freedom of information request.
Since that first contact, OSR has repeatedly attempt to excuse and defend ministers’ misleading use of the figures.
At first, it argued that the information used by ministers came from an “unpublished policy impact assessment” and that DWP “has confirmed that it does not have the data to provide the actual numbers impacted by the policy”.
It later suggested that as the impact assessment was “unpublished” OSR did not know “if it included any estimate of the number of disabled people who would lose out from the move to Universal Credit”.
Tomlinson told Labour MP Neil Coyle in a written answer earlier this month that “millions of people who move onto Universal Credit from legacy benefits will be better off, including around a million disabled households who will gain on average around £100 per month”.
Apparently as a result of DNS’s discussions with OSR, he referred this time to a 2011 equality impact assessment which still “stands overall”, although he said that “major changes” to UC had also been subjected to later impact assessments.
The 2011 assessment, updated in November 2011 (PDF), states that, even though many disabled households would gain under UC, “it is likely that the average change in entitlement for disabled households would in fact be closer to zero”.
This suggests – although it is likely that the figures repeatedly quoted by ministers are taken from an impact assessment that was carried out in later years – that there will be multiple winners and losers from the UC rollout among disabled households, as has always been assumed by campaigners.
The 2011 document strongly suggests that ministers have repeatedly misled MPs about the impact of UC on disabled households by only quoting the winners, and ignoring the losers.
OSR also argued in its lengthy discussions with DNS that it was “outside our remit to comment on data in Impact Assessments”.
But this does not appear to be true.
Although OSR sets standards for “official statistics” – which do not cover impact assessments – it also oversees voluntary application of its code of practice, which is for “any producer of data, statistics and analysis which are not official statistics”.
This should mean that it is within its remit to criticise DWP over the use of data from impact assessments by ministers.
DNS has now asked OSR 12 times if it will criticise DWP over its misleading use of figures relating to disabled people and the rollout of UC.
By noon today (Thursday), it had failed to do so.
A DWP spokesperson declined to answer questions about the figures, and he advised DNS to submit another freedom of information request.
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