OSR chief says that department failed to uphold principles that public data should be ‘trustworthy, of high quality, and offer public value’
The Department for Work and Pensions’ claims that it has got 500,000 jobseekers into work in five months are not trustworthy, the statistics regulator has said.
DWP put out a press release and tweet on 30 June claiming it had met its target, set in January, to get half a million people on Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit Intensive Work Search into employment. Boris Johnson repeated the claim about the campaign in the House of Commons on 6 July.
But Office for Statistics Regulation head Ed Humpherson said the department had not sufficiently justified its claim, which follows warnings from MPs over the department’s repeated failure to publish research it has commissioned.
In a letter to DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield, Humpherson said: “Measuring government programmes in a robust and transparent way is important and the statistics/data underpinning any measurement should uphold principles of being trustworthy, of high quality and offer public value. The way the department has communicated information in this case does not uphold these principles.”
The half a million claim is based on management information from 29 June and was first published as an answer to a parliamentary question the next day.
The answer by then-employment minister Mims Davies to a question from fellow Tory MP Mark Eastwood said: “We estimate that at least 505,400 unemployed Universal Credit claimants and Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants have moved into work during the Way to Work campaign between 31 January and the end of 26 June”.
Humpherson, OSR’s director general for regulation, said DWP has failed to publish sufficient evidence for this claim and should not be relying on information given in response to a parliamentary question.
“When management information is used publicly to inform parliament, the media and the public, it should be published in an accessible form, with appropriate explanations of context and sources,” he said.
He also criticised the department’s failure, back in January, to publish clearly defined targets, saying it has made it difficult to determine how much of an impact the campaign has had.
“There is no clear explanation of how the Way to Work target was defined, how it would be measured, and the methods used to support claims, such as those in the tweet and press release, that the target has been reached,” he said.
“It is difficult to attribute and quantify publicly the impact of a campaign like the Way to Work campaign in the absence of a clearly defined and published target, and details about how the target will be measured and reported, at the start.”
Humpherson has asked the department to set out plans for “more formal, structured” reporting of statistics about the programme that meet the Code of Practice for Statistics.
This could include publishing a DWP “ad hoc” statistical release, he said.
MPs have already warned the department over its repeated failure to publish research.
In January, the Work and Pensions Select Committee used House of Commons powers to order NatCen Social Research to provide a copy of a report it carried out for DWP on health and disability benefits, after the department refused to publish the research.
Two months later, committee chair Sir Stephen Timms accused the DWP of having a “culture of secrecy” after it blocked access to benefit sanctions data.
And in June he warned that the department’s numerous failures to release research and information “despite expectations or previous commitments to do so” could undermine trust in the department.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We will respond to the Office for Statistics Regulation in due course. Way to Work supported half a million unemployed people to move into work, helping employers across the UK to fill vacancies backed by free recruitment support from jobcentres. Our nationwide jobcentres continue to connect jobseekers with the vast number of opportunities on offer right now.”