The UK statistics regulator has told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to explain why it has yet to provide any statistics that show how disabled people seeking to claim universal credit are experiencing the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has written to DWP’s chief statistician Steve Ellerd-Elliott to ask for an explanation for the “gap in the information”.
OSR acted after Disability News Service wrote to the regulator last month to ask it to investigate DWP’s failure to provide the figures.
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.
Mary Gregory, OSR’s deputy director for regulation, pointed in her letter to DWP to the “continued and unfulfilled need for WCA statistics since the rollout of Universal Credit”.
She said there was an “expectation” that such figures would be published, and she added: “It is not clear from what is publicly available, what, if any, plans are in place to address this and when they are anticipated to be completed.
“We expect statistics producers to be clear and transparent in their decision making, and to include reasons why gaps in reporting remain.”
She said in the letter that DWP had pointed out as part of a 2017 consultation that it hoped to investigate providing such figures but that “no further information on these areas for future exploration has been published”.
Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy adviser for Disability Rights UK, welcomed the OSR letter.
He said: “It’s good to see that the OSR is chasing up the DWP on this issue.
“If the DWP continues to stonewall, the OSR should use whatever powers it has to ensure that it complies.
“The DWP is beginning the forced ‘managed’ migration of ESA claimants to universal credit.
“Scrutiny of how those already on universal credit are being treated in terms of work capability assessment referrals and outcomes is essential.
“Any lack of DWP transparency can only reinforce ESA claimants’ worries about having to leave the benefit.”
Freedom of information campaigner John Slater said the letter was a “nice shot across the bows of the DWP”.
He said: “It reminds people in the DWP of what was promised, and that the regulator is looking over their shoulder.”
He highlighted the importance of collecting, using and measuring data, particularly because of the “complexity” of universal credit.
He added: “If the DWP isn’t collecting and measuring data about key aspects of universal credit then its claims that all is going well must ring hollow.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “DWP will respond to the Office for Statistics Regulation in due course. The response will be published.”
Even though the WCA system has been closely linked to countless deaths of disabled people over the last decade, DWP produces only 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.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people at the time, promised three years ago that DWP would soon be publishing official WCA universal credit statistics.
But those figures were never published.
And when Chloe Smith, the new minister for disabled people, was asked a related question last December, she claimed that it would be too expensive, even though the figures are published for ESA claimants.
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