Independent media has forced the DWP to release previously buried Universal Credit figures

The DWP and Universal Credit logos in reference to a benefits crackdown
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An independent media outlet has forced the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release previously hidden Universal Credit figures. They show just how many people receiving benefits payments under the new system have been forced into work by the DWP.

Moreover, the figures may also begin to shed light on how the department treats Universal Credit claimants compared to other benefits – where thousands of people have died after the DWP told them they were fit for work.

The Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is how the DWP decides if a claimant is too sick or disabled to work. As the Canary previously reported:

Sometimes, it says that claimants currently cannot work. But the DWP still makes them do activities like attend work-focused interviews at the Jobcentre. This is because the department says they’ll be ready to work at some point. However, the WCA is extremely flawed: from the conduct of the private companies that run assessments to the deaths of claimants declared “fit for work” by WCAs.

The DWP has used WCAs for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for many years. In 2010, it started publishing data on how many people it said were fit for work. However, the DWP only first released figures on WCA outcomes under Universal Credit in October 2022 – and these were only for the period July 2021 – March 2022.

Universal Credit: forcing more disabled people to get ready for work?

The Canary reported at the time that:

the DWP found roughly the same percentage of people fit for work on Universal Credit and ESA. […] The percentages of those who the DWP says do not have to work are also similar on both benefits. [… ]However, there was one area where the figures were very different.

Read on...

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Under Universal Credit, the DWP is forcing more chronically ill and disabled people to ‘prepare’ for work – putting them in the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) group. This figure is 18.26% of all WCA outcomes – versus 13.83% on ESA in the equivalent [Work-Related Activity Group].

These figures show a 32% increase in the number of people the DWP said must prepare for work under Universal Credit, when compared to ESA.

However, all this only provided a snapshot of how the DWP had overall been using WCAs under Universal Credit. Now, thanks to John Pring at independent media outlet Disability News Service (DNS), the department will have to release more data.

DWP: caving in

As Pring reported, for years the DWP had refused to publish WCA figures for Universal Credit. However, after DNS complained to the government regulator the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), this changed. Pring noted that the OSR wrote to the DWP saying that:

its failure to publish universal credit WCA statistics left “a gap in the information available” and that there was a “wealth of evidence around the need for transparency around Universal Credit WCA statistics”.

Now, the DWP has caved in. Pring wrote that the department:

is now set to produce quarterly “experimental” statistics, which will show how many people are placed in the limited capability for work (LCW) or limited capability for work related activity (LCWRA) groups after a WCA.

And it will show – dating back to April 2019 – how many claimants DWP has found fit for work (now known as “no limited capability for work”) or placed in the LCW or LCWRA groups.

The DWP document says the decision to publish the new statistics was taken to “address the gap highlighted by correspondence with the [OSR]”.

So, why does all this matter?

Shedding light on tragedy

Firstly, the DWP finding people fit for work or work-related activity is a money-saving exercise for it – to the tune of over £350 per claimant, per month. As the Canary previously wrote, though, it’s debatable if this is good for the people it forces into this position. However, the bigger point is whether or not DWP WCA decisions are right in the first place. The tragic end of this process can sometimes be a claimant’s death.

In the previous decade, thousands of people have died after the DWP said they were fit for work – in some cases taking their own lives. Yet up until now, the DWP has failed to make public just how many people it was pushing under Universal Credit into situations which historically led to these deaths.

Moreover, the department has repeatedly avoided releasing any full mortality figures for the benefit – like it does for ESA. Now, thanks to Pring, the public may begin to get a fuller picture of just how severe the end result of DWP decisions under Universal Credit are. However, this will be of little comfort to the families of those who already died on the department’s watch.

Featured image via Video Blogg Productions/The Canary and Wikimedia 

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