Treasury pressure leading DWP to pass welfare laws without evidence – government adviser

Chair of the government’s Social Security Advisory Committee says Budget and Autumn Statement deadlines have "regularly resulted in secondary legislation being presented to us without meaningful analysis of impact or interactions with other parts of the benefit system"

By Jonathan Owen

16 Aug 2016

Welfare reforms are being pushed through without any real evidence to allow a proper assessment of how they will affect some of Britain’s most vulnerable people, according to the chair of the government’s Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC).

The Treasury is singled out for criticism by Paul Gray, SSAC chair, in a new report from the independent body that scrutinises laws passed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Commenting on the way in which policies are developed, he said: “The committee has observed that legislation required to deliver policies announced by the chancellor during his Budget or autumn statements is often developed at pace to meet challenging deadlines set by HM Treasury.”

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Gray added: “This has regularly resulted in secondary legislation being presented to us without meaningful analysis of impact or interactions with other parts of the benefit system.”

Writing in the foreword of the latest annual report by the SSAC, Gray – a former senior civil servant who has served as executive chairman of HM Revenue & Customs, and the DWP's second permanent secretary – said: “The absence of evidence underpinning some of the government’s policy choices has been a significant concern to us over the past year, and we hope that the government will adjust this aspect of its approach to policy-making in the coming year.”

The SSAC report cites proposed cuts to tax credits last year, which were subsequently abandoned by the government.

“The cumulative effect of these proposals was likely to have had a significant impact upon considerable numbers of tax credit claimants and yet there was a lack of any information about that impact,” the report said.

The criticisms come after Gray voiced his concern with ministers over the way policies were being pushed through.

In a letter to Treasury minister David Gauke late last year on the proposed cuts to tax credits – which were subsequently abandoned by the government – Gray warned of “the lack of available evidence to support the policy changes being presented to us".

He added: “There can be no question that this committee is hampered in its role of scrutinising proposed changes in cases where the supporting explanatory material and evidence is scant.”

The problem is a long-standing one, Gray said: “The committee has noted in the past the absence of analytical material on the cumulative impact of welfare reforms.”

Asked to respond to Gray's comments, an HM Treasury spokesperson said: “Treasury makes every effort to provide sufficient time to develop and legislate reforms, while also allowing the government to act swiftly to introduce important changes and manage public spending.

"HM Treasury and departments work closely together with advisory bodies to make sure they are able to submit advice and guidance on legislation in advance.”

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