The DWP took 233 pages to analyse a new benefit reform. ‘B*llocks’ would have done.

The DWP logo and a man holding his head
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released the results of a trial into increased support and sanctions in Universal Credit. It took 233 pages to sum up what most people could do in one word: ‘bollocks’. But the implications of the trial for the DWP are actually far more damning.

The DWP: if at first you don’t succeed… 

Here’s what the DWP said about its latest trial:

DWP’s in-work progression randomised controlled trial ran between April 2015 and March 2018. The trial tested the effectiveness of differing intensities of support and conditionality provided to current Universal Credit claimants in low-paid work or low-income households. In total 30,709 claimants passed through the trial and were available for analysis.

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It said the trial had three treatment groups:

  • “frequent support claimants, who met with their work coach fortnightly to get support and review agreed actions”
  • “moderate support claimants, who met with their work coach every 8 weeks to get support and review agreed actions”
  • “minimal support claimants, who had an initial telephone appointment and a follow-up telephone call 8 weeks after starting the trial”

It did three analyses of it: its own impact assessment, one it outsourced to Ipsos MORI and a summary of the two. The 233-page Ipsos MORI one was staggering. Because it may as well have said: ‘This trial was a complete waste of everyone’s fucking time’.

…trial, trial, trial again

Ipsos MORI did its analysis in two waves. It surveyed 2,698 claimants after three months on the trial (wave one). Then, it surveyed 1,206 claimants after 15 months (wave two).

It found that statistically there was no evidence for the different groups, extra meetings or sanctions impacting on ANY of the following:

  • Job progression, money earned or hours worked.
  • Claimant attitude, self-confidence and behaviour.
  • Wellbeing.

It specifically said that:

  • Claimant outcomes were not affected by the trial; instead their relationship with their Work Coach was.
  • Work Coaches were inconsistent in the delivery of the trial.
  • Everyone’s money went up, regardless of which group they were in.
  • Training helped claimants get more money and hours. But this bore no relation to which group they were in.
  • In wave two the number of people in work actually fell.

But in the interests of balance, Ipsos MORI did find that people were more likely to get permanent jobs in the higher level support groups, compared with the minimal support one.

Putting people OFF work

However, it also found that claimant’s interest in job progression actually fell as the trial went on; almost as if the DWP was making them sick of work before they’d even got any more of it. And as a final kick in the teeth for the DWP, it asked claimants whether they agreed that:

becoming self-sufficient and not relying on benefits to top up earnings is a priority

The overall number of claimants agreeing with this fell – YES, FELL – by 9% over the course of the trial, except in the minimal support group. There it only just increased.

But overall, the Ipsos MORI report says that people who are mentally and emotionally in a good place and don’t have much else going on (no children, good health) are more likely to progress in work.

Hold. The. Fucking. Front. Page.

We don’t know how much the DWP paid Ipsos MORI to reach this conclusion. But judging by the way it’s trying to spin this drivel as positive, it must have been a lot.

Altered reality

The DWP Impact Assessment (looking at 30,709 claimants) may as well have been reporting a completely different trial to Ipsos MORI. Its proudest claim was that it found a “a small and positive statistically significant monetary progression” due to the trial. It said that people in the frequent and moderate groups earned respectively £5.25 and £4.43 a week more a year into the trial than people on minimal support. But it said it didn’t yet know whether this trend continued. And ultimately the DWP said it needs to keep trialling the trial; in other words ‘until we get the bloody result we want’. Because if over 30,000 claimants, nearly three years and a damning Ipsos MORI analysis isn’t enough to tell the DWP this trial is bollocks – I’m not sure what is.

It was such unfettered bollocks, even Ipsos MORI noted that:

The difference in findings between the two reports is likely to be due to the larger sample size available for the Impact Assessment.

In other words, if you throw 30,709 darts at a dart board its likely a few will hit the bullseye.

Dangerous times

But there’s one telling line in Ipsos MORI’s report. It’s the feedback from Work Coaches. The report noted that they said some of their claimants viewed the trial as:

 an inconvenience because they think they’re working even though it’s part time

and added:

‘it’s the (former) Tax Credit customers… who struggle with no conditionality attached to tax credits.

This innocuous statement is probably one of the darkest warnings in the whole report. Because there are at least 1.2 million working people to whom this may well suddenly apply. The DWP will subject these people to the same sanctions regime disabled people have spent years suffering under. The impact could be catastrophic.

Rampant desperation 

But moreover, what the trial also shows is the DWP’s manic desperation over Universal Credit.

I have repeatedly documented the infinite criticism the flagship benefit has come in for. But it’s easier to note that the only people saying it’s working are those in government.

This trial is the DWP throwing the kitchen sink at the benefit. It’s desperate to make the round Universal Credit peg fit in the square claimant hole. So it will do anything to prove it’s working; even in the smallest, most flawed way. Meanwhile, the violent, democidal march of this Dickensian benefit and its department continues. Stop and scrap the damn thing, now.

Get Involved!

– Check out the #DWPcrimes#ScrapUniversalCredit and #CrimesOfDWP hashtags on Twitter. Support the blogs Universal Credit Sufferer and The Poor Side of Life. Get involved with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via robertprax – pixabay and UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple