Therese Coffey, the secretary of state for work and pensions, has demonstrated her utter contempt for MPs and claimants in her response this week to a request for the publication of nine reports that the DWP has been keeping secret.

 As we revealed last month, the Commons work and pensions committee wrote to Coffey on 15 June asking about nine reports that should have been published as long ago as 2017, but which the DWP is desperate to keep hidden.

The reports cover issues including sanctions, claimant deaths and the transfer to UC.

At a meeting with the committee on 29 June, Coffey refused to answer questions on whether the reports would be published, because she said she would explain everything in a letter to be sent to the committee by 15 July.

The committee have now received and published that letter, which makes it clear that Coffey knew all along that virtually none of the reports would be published.  It is also clear that Coffey can’t really be bothered to try to justify the obsessive and sometimes deadly secrecy that surrounds the DWP’s activities.

WCA statistics

The DWP has been promising to publish statistics on the results of work capability assessments for UC since 2017.  Such statistics are published every quarter for ESA, but we have no idea what happens to people assessed under UC.  Coffey’s response on this issue, however, was utterly dismissive:

There are currently no plans to develop official statistics on UC claimants undergoing a WCA. While we will keep this position under review, I anticipate there will be fewer resources available and I am not committing to developing new statistics at this time.

The truth is that the DWP beyond question know how many claimants undertake the WCA for UC, how many are found capable of work and how many are found to have limited capability for work or limited capability for work-related activity.  It would literally not be possible for them to administer the system or monitor the performance of the assessment provider without having this information.

Coffey is relying on the weasel words ‘official statistics’ to get her off the hook on this one.  Official statistics would require quality assurance, which would be very easy to provide, before they were published. 

But the statistics exist nonetheless, only for some reason the DWP would much rather no-one saw them.

Benefit sanctions

In 2019, the DWP was supposed to publish the findings of its own research into whether UC sanctions are effective in supporting claimant in looking for work.  After years of foot-dragging Coffey has now refused to do so.  She wrote:

“We no longer plan to publish the report. This was commissioned by a previous administration. The notion of a sanction acts not only through its imposition on a claimant but importantly also through its effect as a deterrent. Due to the way the report was commissioned, we were unable to assess the deterrent effect and therefore this research does not present a comprehensive picture of sanctions.”

In other words, the report failed to provide a single shred of evidence that UC sanctions encourage claimants to look for work, but it was carried out by a previous secretary of state and so I’m simply going to say it was rubbish and no-one is allowed to see it. 

In reality, Coffey could simply have published the report with the caveat that it didn’t take into account any possible – and probably unquantifiable – deterrent effect.

But then there would be no justification for the current relentless rise in the number of UC sanctions.

Support for vulnerable UC claimants

A report entitled ‘How effective is the support for vulnerable claimants of UC? is of vital public interest as hundreds of thousands of just such vulnerable claimants are about to be forcibly moved from ESA to UC.

But Coffey couldn’t be bothered to come up with a credible excuse for keeping this document secret, simply restating the freedom of information exemption that publishing it would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. 

In fact, if the DWP cared in the slightest about supporting vulnerable claimants they would be sharing whatever information they had with disabled people’s organisations and asking for help in coming up with effective procedures.

Claimant deaths

The DWP has refused to publish any information from Internal Process Reports (IPRs) on deaths of benefit claimants, ever since the existence of these secret reports was discovered.

In her letter, Coffey simply refuses again to publish the reports, saying:  “I am not intending to share any IPRs with the committee, but I will provide a list of some recommendations that have arisen from IPRs.”

In fact, the list she provides deals largely with meeting service level agreements, quality assurance frameworks and operational standards and reveals virtually nothing about what is going wrong or how it is to be improved.

UC Programme Board papers

The UC Programme Board papers include research findings relating to the move from legacy benefits to UC.

In her letter, Coffey has included a copy of a single paper covering the ‘Move to UC.  User research findings’

However, the paper appears to be little more than a simple power point presentation which lists barriers to moving to UC as issues like:

  • Worries, negative social media, misconceptions to overcome
  • Needing reassurance
  • Claimant barriers – mental health, life issues
  • Stalling and creating issues to resolve before claiming
  • Needing things to be explained multiple times
  • Not having right information to make the claim
  • Unwilling to engage at all

The document offers very broad and simplistic explanations of how these barriers can be overcome, but there are clearly very much more detailed documents which stand behind this single presentation.

Contempt

Overall, the letter from Coffey drips with the arrogance of someone who knows they can ignore virtually all attempts at scrutiny of what they do and demonstrates an utter absence of concern for the welfare of claimants.

The sad truth is that the Commons work and pensions committee simply lacks the powers to make the DWP accountable and, until it gets such powers, ministers like Coffey will be able maintain a veil of secrecy around activities that put claimants lives at risk.

You can download a copy of Coffey’s letter to the select committee.

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    Kayla · 16 days ago
    This is the usual contempt towards vulnerable people these Minister keep getting away with. The word accountability might as well be never used again. It's it absolutely appalling hat this report looks like to never see the light of day only because its highlights the absolute shower that the DWP and its head banana is. Disgusted. 
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    AllieEss · 18 days ago
    A friend working for a certain government department, said to me, "I lost points on my assessment because of you!" I asked why, she said she had answered "yes, blind people can use a magnifying glass". She was told that was an incorrect answer! What a tangled web they weave.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    C. Stanger · 18 days ago
    Coffey needs to lose her seat in Parliament. When the time comes vote for anyone other than Coffey!
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    patrizia · 18 days ago
    The Freedom of Information Act is a powerful piece of legislation. If a formal request has been made for the information, the government has a duty to disclose it, subject to stated exemptions, which must themselves be justified by evidence. It looks like there may be a case for prosecution under section 77 of the FOIA
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    nick · 18 days ago
    The bottom line is the welfare reform deaths in their thousands since 2010 on to remember the dead face book page found here 
    https://www.facebook.com/ribbonsforwelfare?hc_location=stream



  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    royston · 20 days ago
    This was 3 years ago. The story above isn't completely accurate.
    It was payday loans that put him in debt and he had applied for Universal credit, which he had to wait 5 weeks for.
    Anybody that needs help should not have to wait 5 weeks for it.
    But even though there are other cases like this, nothing has changed since this happened.
    https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/single-dad-just-461-took-18457364
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    T Dawson · 20 days ago
    https://investor.maximus.com/news-events/press-releases/detail/12/maximus-uk-secures-major-contracts-to-deliver

    Coffey added sick and disabled people to the Restart scheme, along with JSA claimants, in March 2022. Referrals of sick and disabled UC claimants with or without fit notes commenced in April. Restart was not designed for sick and disabled people, but for fully fit UC claimants in the intensive work search regime.

    Maximus holds both the contract for the WCA across the entire country and they also hold the contract for Restart in certain areas. The areas are South and East London, and in South and West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

    Once on Maximus' Restart, sick and disabled UC claimants are having their WCA undertaken by Maximus.  All 'fit for work" results from Maximus that keep sick and disabled claimants on Maximus' Restart can be challenged on the basis that Maximus are biased in favour of keeping sick and disabled claimants on their Restart scheme under erroneous "fit for work" results.

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