Regulator urges greater DWP transparency over Universal Credit data

Written by Beckie Smith on 27 April 2020 in News
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Statistics watchdog expresses ‘concerns’ about publication of information during ongoing crisis

The UK’s statistics regulator has written to the Department for Work and Pensions, telling the department to be more transparent with the figures ministers are using to demonstrate how it is handling the coronavirus crisis.

DWP’s workload has shot up since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, as measures to tackle the virus have led to a spike in claims for Universal Credit.

In a letter to Steve Ellerd-Elliott, DWP’s chief statistician, Ed Humpherson, the Office for Statistics Regulation’s director general for regulation, said the watchdog had “concerns” about the way information was being published.

He said some figures shared by ministers about Universal Credit “to give context in public statements” had not been made publicly available and were not included in DWP’s publication of UC statistics this week.

“It is both regrettable and concerning that some of the breakdowns of management information that your department had preannounced last week and raised with the Work and Pensions Committee were not published yesterday,” Humpherson said.

“In line with the Code of Practice for Statistics, the DWP should ensure that any public statements are supported by information which is equally available to all,” the letter, sent yesterday and copied to DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield, read.

Humpherson said Schofield had told the Work and Pensions Committee his department planned to publish a set of supplementary data on Universal Credit including the numbers of declarations, awards and advances, and information on the busiest times of day for calls and other relevant performance information.

And last week the department said it would publish breakdowns of management information by geography and key characteristics.

However, this week’s publication included only some of this data.

“We hope that the DWP will publish the remaining breakdowns that it had preannounced and we look forward to seeing this information published on a regular basis for the duration it remains relevant to users,” Humpherson said.

“Universal Credit continues to be an area of high user interest and has increasingly moved to the foreground of public debate as the UK adjusts to rapid changes in society and the economy as a result of Covid-19,” he wrote.

“We recognise the challenging environment in which your department is working in and support the work it is doing to balance the demand for up-to-date information with ensuring relevance to users and good quality data. The statistics teams in your department have shown flexibility and responsiveness by exploring different data sources to meet this demand.”

But he added: “The DWP should look to enhance its trustworthiness by publishing information it had committed publicly to release. Not doing so creates a risk to both transparency and to public understanding."

 

About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @beckie__smith.

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