The DWP are refusing to provide Benefits and Work with a copy of a report looking at 120 claimants’ experiences of receiving PIP, ESA and Universal Credit. But we’re not taking no for an answer.
Back in October we told readers how Stephen Timms, chair of the commons work and pensions committee, had written to Therese Coffey, DWP secretary of state, in August asking for a copy of a report entitled The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits.
The report was completed in 2020, but has still not been published and no reference has been made to it in any subsequent green paper relating to disability or benefits.
Coffey has refused to provide a copy of the report to the work and pensions committee, even though this breaches the government’s own protocol for the publication of social research. This states that social research will be promptly made publicly available.
Having read about the report, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of information Act request for a copy.
Predictably, this has been refused.
The DWP confirmed that they have a copy of the report. However, they say that the report is exempt from disclosure because it would be against the public interest to do so.
Their refusal states:
“ . . . good government depends on good decision-making and this needs to be based on the best advice available and a full consideration of all the options without fear of premature disclosure. If this public interest cannot be protected there is a risk that decision-making will become poorer and will be recorded inadequately.”
However, when the report was commissioned the bid pack stated that the successful bidder would have to create:
“A final report of the research findings for publication” and “a one-page summary of the research for the DWP website”
So, this was never intended to be private research for the benefit of the minister alone.
And had those taking part been told that their contributions would be kept secret, they might well have refused to have anything to do with the report.
The exemption the DWP is relying on is not designed to protect ministers from embarrassment simply because a report is critical of their department.
We have asked the DWP to look again at their decision.
We have also asked to see the invitation letters sent to participants to discover if they were indeed told that their contributions would be published.
The next step after the DWP’s inevitable refusal to change their decision will be a request to the Information Commissioner’s Office and then, if necessary a tribunal.
The only thing that is certain is that we are not going to give up, simply to spare the DWP’s blushes.
If any of our readers took part in the consultation, we’d love to hear from you.