MPs to forcibly publish report on benefits system after ‘repeated obstruction’ from DWP

Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey has repeatedly refused to publish the research
Thérèse Coffey has repeatedly refused to release the report

By Tevye Markson

17 Jan 2022

A committee of MPs has said it will use its parliamentary powers to release a report that the Department for Work and Pensions commissioned on disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system, but has repeatedly refused to publish.

After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain the report from DWP, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has written to the research institute that carried out the work to demand a copy, which it will then publish itself.

Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey has repeatedly refused to make the research public.

Stephen Timms, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “After repeated obstruction from the secretary of state to keep from public view a piece of work that falls within the government’s own protocol for publication, we have reached the end of the road.

“We would have much rather the DWP had done the right thing and published the report itself, so it is with regret that we must now take the highly unusual step of using our parliamentary powers to obtain a copy from NatCen and publish it ourselves.

“We have been forced to do this to ensure that the reality of disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system can see the light of day.”

The committee has written to Coffey several times in the last few months, and in December gave the secretary of state one final chance to publish the report, which she herself admitted falls within the government’s protocol for publication.

In a letter on 10 January, Coffey said she had “no intention to publish this research at present”, saying the department was “protecting a private space for policy development”.

The committee has now written to the National Centre for Social Research, which carried out the research, ordering it to provide a copy for the committee to publish by Thursday 27 January.

The report, entitled The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits, was submitted to DWP in September 2020, featuring interviews disabled people about their experiences of receiving PIP, ESA and Universal Credit.

At last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson promised that the government would publish the research “as soon as we can”.

DWP wrote to all 120 people it interviewed telling them the research would be published, but Coffey says she did not sign off on these letters and does not know who did.

The government’s protocol on social research says all products of government social research and analysis will be made publicly available and “promptly” released.

While the protocol states that analysis “investigating the potential effects of different policy options” does not need to be published, Timms said the secretary of state had confirmed to him that the document is within the scope of the protocol.

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