19 February 2015

Benefit related deaths

It's often alleged that there is a connection between how the DWP treats claimants and the untimely death of some of them. The DWP sometimes investigates these cases, EG:

"The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths in less than three years, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal."

Understandably, people want to see these reviews in case wrongdoing is identified. Also understandably, the DWP don't publish them saying "Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act (SSSA) 1992 makes it an offence for anyone who is employed in social security administration to disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person" See here for an example FOI request where this and other arguments are deployed

However, a more modest request got better results Here the request was mainly for numbers

In the "60 peer reviews following the death of a customer":

1. How many reviews identified that all local and national standards had been
2. How many reviews identified that some local or national standards had not
been followed?
3. How many reviews identified that some local or national standards need to
be revised/improved?
4. What action has there been to date in the cases referred to in my questions
2 & 3 above?

This is essence of the response:

in fact only 49 of these reviews had been conducted in circumstances where the claimant had died.
33 out of the 49 cases referred to above contained recommendations for
consideration at either national or local level.

National recommendations have been referred to the Customer Journey team
for inclusion in their regular reviews. Local recommendations have been
referred to the appropriate office to be taken forward.

This isn't actually an admission of wrongdoing but it seems unlikely that many of the "recommendations" will be drawing attention to good practice in these unfortunate cases,

10May2015:  This related FOI response shows that 10 out of 49 cases had a sanction at some point during their claim.

17 February 2015

Sanctions comprehensive monitoring regime

The DWP tells the world "Sanctions are used as a last resort and the DWP has put in place a comprehensive monitoring regime to ensure that sanctions are always and only applied where appropriate to do so." (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benefit-sanctions-ending-the-something-for-nothing-culture) There is a contrary view that many sanctions are capricious, arbitrary, bullying and driven by targets to get people off benefits. (EG: http://stupidsanctions.tumblr.com/)

So what's the truth? I chose to focus on the DWP's "comprehensive monitoring regime" as that sounds to me like data and evidence and we love that.

So I asked about it. Initially I just got some Quality Assurance Frameworks and a DMA Referrals Checklist. Interesting but no data. After asking for a review I got a "summary of the quality checks undertaken" - I've plotted the accuracy rate below together with the number of cases checked:

We can see that for some months, accuracy hovered between 90% and 95% which if you want to be picky doesn't quite match "always and only applied". I was more interested in the decline that set in during Autumn 2014. The peak in the number of cases checked is interesting too. It looks like "something happened" around that time and I'd be interested in ideas about what?

I think it will be interesting to ask the same question again later in the year to see if the decline is a decline or just part of a blip. 

Given the lack of data before April 2014, I wonder if the "comprehensive monitoring regime" wasn't actually in place back in November 2013 when the original claim was made?

10 February 2015

Sanctions used as a Last Resort

DWP people are often quoted as saying that sanctions are used as a "Last Resort" EG:

"Sanctions are applied as a last resort when claimants fail to do enough to find work, fail to attend appointments or have turned down job offers..." (1)

However, there are many claims that they as used as a first resort (2)

So what's the truth? We may soon find out via an FOI request "Number of people sanctioned for missing just one JSA appointment". This doesn't simply ask the obvious question, it also asks:

"If DWP don’t have this number, then how can Iain Duncan Smith possibly know, or be believed, that JSA benefit sanctions for failure to attend an adviser interview were only applied as a last resort?"

Strictly speaking, DWP can decline to answer that by arguing that it isn't "recorded information" but I note with approval the use of a technique I've blogged about before - ask for recorded information that should exist, force an admission that it doesn't exist and then comment adversely.

Another pertinent FOI request is about  "Sanctions comprehensive monitoring regime" which refers to this government statement:

"Sanctions are used as a last resort and the DWP has put in place a comprehensive monitoring regime to ensure that sanctions are always and only applied where appropriate to do so."

Finally, a request that asks rather directly for the evidence relied on for these statements that sanctions are used as a "last resort"

These requests are at various stages - stay tuned for updates

2 February 2015

DWP -STILL- have no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

It's often alleged by Boycott Workfare and others that Workfare costs jobs. Why would employers recruit paid workers when they can get slaves from the Jobcentre for nothing? The DWP, aware of this allegation counter it by having "strict" guidelines that paid jobs must not be displaced. Nearly a year ago I took to wondering if they did any research, auditing, etc. to make sure the guidelines were kept to. The answer was they didn't.

Recently I asked essentially the same question again in hopes that the DWP would have now done some work on it. After a tussle it emerged that they still have no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

``Although there are strict guidelines in place that providers must follow when sourcing appropriate placements I can confirm that we do not hold the information you requested for MWA and CWP placements``

This is very disappointing. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Irish equivalent of the DWP have commissioned some proper research and even chucked some "employers" off their scheme for displacing jobs.

The other disappointing aspect of this response is the determination of the DWP to coyly avoid admitting that they'd put no effort into this important matter. Their initial response gives lots of information about guidelines, the benevolent intent of schemes, how they are delivered, the contracted providers and meetings. What it does not do is provide the recorded information I requested on "all research intended to measure compliance".

I solved this by asking them to do a Review of their response and quoted the very useful Section 1(1) of the FOI Act that says they have to either provide the information or say that they don't hold it.

You may find this useful  if you want to be sure that a Government does not know something you think it should. For more on this technique, see here