Statistics – Lack of priority

Minister’s appear to treat the publication of ESA statistics as unimportant and optional. For example key appeals data was omitted from the October 2013 release, with little in the way of explanation. I raised this in a written parliamentary question, and in a letter to the UK Statistics Authority on 4 November 2013 – after which I also circulated a press release. In his reply of 3 December 2013, the Chair Sir Andrew Dilnot said:

In this case it appears that DWP could have drawn public attention to the issue sooner, and did not fully explain the reasons for the delay.

This data was eventually published, but the publication now runs 9 months in arrears (the January 2014 release ran 10 months behind – the accompanying notes set out some explanation for these changes), whereas it was previously 8 months. DWP have published a series of documents that defend this practice that I highlight here. This makes it harder to make the case for reform, given that the figures used will always be quite old. Again this shows the low priority Ministers give to this practice.

More generally I’m concerned that the Government simply aren’t that bothered about finding out how other aspects of the WCA is working in practice. Examples abound:

  • As I indicated in my introduction to this section of my website, 39% of Fit For Work decisions are appealed and 37% of those appeals are successful. However these figures are based on new claims only. As I’ve emphasised elsewhere, this is only one of three ‘strands’ of ESA assessment – there are also periodic reassessments of existing claimants, and the migration of claimants previously in receipt of the old Incapacity Benefit. Unfortunately, as written answers from January 2013 shows, detailed appeals data isn’t published for these latter two strands. However this answer to Stephen Timms from June 2012 and section 2.3 of this document on the DWP website suggests full figures will be published in the future. In addition the Ministry of Justice are able to answer written questions on this – for example this parliamentary question from 12 December 2012 tells us that on average 34% of Fit for Work decisions were overturned every month between February 2011 and June 2012 – and the total appeals figures can be obtained from the Ministry of Justice. However when I asked about this again on 11 June 2014 I was again told that no such data is readily available.
  • An applicant should be able to be placed straight into the support group if they are either terminally ill or provide sufficient written evidence of their illness or disability when they first apply. However the Minister admitted in a written answer on 28 February 2012 that DWP don’t collect data on the number of claimants going through this rout, and a written answer on 12 February 2013 reinforces this point (which I also cover here).
  • The regularity with which people have their ESA claims re-opened is determined by the prognosis period given by Decision Makers. However this written answer from 28 February 2012 suggests the Minister hasn’t bothered checking how long these are on average.
  • I’m also concerned that an increasingly large number of people are being found Fit for Work but then being refused Jobseekers Allowance because they are unavailable for work. In many cases these people will likely then reapply for ESA. I asked the Minister responsible Mark Hoban whether his department collected statistics on this, but in a written answer from 3 July 2013 he indicated that they do not.
  • Another frustration is that Ministers are unwilling to continue to the previous Government’s work in developing data  on the proportions of people given Incapacity Benefit under  the WCA’s predecessor – the Personal Capability Assessment – so as to allow for meaningful comparisons. This was confirmed by a written answer on 22 January 2013.
  • Welfare Rights specialist Nick Dilworth has pointed out to me that the ESA caseload statistics – separate from those published on the outcomes of WCAs – didn’t clearly distinguish between new claimants and people migrating from IB until May 2014. See here for more information.
  • DWP previously published the number of people who start to receive Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance every quarter. However when my office tried to access this information in March 2014, DWP indicated that they no longer published this because of an error in their database. They also gave no indication that this issue would be addressed. See this email for details.