THE WORK AND PENSIONS COMMMITTEE has used parliamentary powers to publish a Government-commissioned report into disabled people’s experiences of the benefits system that the DWP had consistently refused to make public.

The report The Uses of Health and Disability Benefits was received by the Government in September 2020. It followed a research project led by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), which interviewed disabled people about their experiences of receiving PIP, ESA and Universal Credit. It reveals that people who did not have income outside the benefits system “reported that they were often unable to meet essential day to day living costs”, such as food, rent and heating.

The Government Social Research Publication Protocol, in place since 2015, states that research of this kind should be published “no more than 12 weeks following agreement of final outputs”.

In December, the Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey was given one final chance to reconsider her decision not to publish the research. Following her refusal, the Committee ordered NatCen to hand over the report for publication.

Stephen Timms, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The report gives a valuable insight into the experiences of people claiming health and disability benefits. While the system is working for some, we now know that others reported that they are still unable to meet essential living costs such as food and utility bills.

“By persisting in its decision to hide away evidence of the struggles people are facing, the DWP will only have further harmed its reputation with disabled people at a time when – as its own officials have acknowledged – lack of trust is a major issue. In order to rebuild its relationship with disabled people, the DWP must stop trying to bury uncomfortable truths.”

The Committee’s report in July on the disability employment gap included a section on DWP’s relationship with disabled people. It cited a report from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) which revealed that DWP officials acknowledged that lack of trust towards the Department from disabled people was “a major issue”.

One of the significant findings in the report was: “Debt was widespread across the sample and covered a range of types of borrowing. These included bank loans, credit cards, rent and utility arrears, doorstep lending, catalogue debts, DWP budgeting loans or overpayments and borrowing from family or friends…. Unmanageable debt was found across in-work and out-of-work households and often comprised multiple forms of debt.”

Anastasia Berry, Policy Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and Policy Manager at the MS Society said: “Despite the Department for Work and Pensions’ relentless attempts to bury this research, we can finally see what they’ve been so desperate to hide. The report was commissioned to provide in-depth insights into how disabled people spend the financial support they receive, which is supposed to help with daily living and the extra costs they face because of their disability. But what it has uncovered is the inadequacy of these benefits for many disabled people. It shows some are struggling to pay for essential day-to-day expenses, such as food, heating and medications, let alone these extra costs.

“The DWP’s failed cover-up of this damning research is just the latest example of their disregard for disabled people, including those with MS. For years, disabled people have been subjected to a benefits system which is stressful, confusing, and fails to provide the basic support they need. Now, with the cost of living crisis erupting, many are reaching breaking point. The Government can no longer continue to push disabled people aside, or hide key pieces of evidence. They must urgently increase benefits by six per cent in April, in line with current inflation, and create a social security system that puts disabled people first.”

* Read the report here.

* Sources: Work and Pensions Committee and Disability Benefits Consortium