Government accused of burying bad news over welfare reform
Sky News - 10 Oct 2018
The Department for Work and Pensions have been accused of trying to "bury" a report that casts doubt on the effectiveness of a key part of the government's flagship welfare reform.
A departmental study - published last month without any ministerial announcement - has found there is "no evidence" that benefit sanctions encouraged claimants on low incomes to increase the amount they earn, despite that concept being a key component of the Universal Credit system.
The three-year "randomised control trial", which was launched in 2015, looked at the impact of interactions with job centre work coaches and the effectiveness of using sanctions to encourage "in-work progress" of Universal Credit claimants.
The results were published on the government's website on 12 September, as MPs prepared to break for recess and leave Westminster for party conference season.
While the report concluded more frequent interactions with a work coach led to a "small, yet statistically significant impact on earnings progression", it found "no evidence" that sanctions for failing to apply for additional work, or undertake additional training "helped motivate participants to progress in work" and in some cases "damaged the relationship between the work coach and the claimant".
Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee has told Sky News he believes the government was hoping to hide the findings.
"The reason why it was buried is because it didn't have good news," he said.
"If it had actually said sanctions terrified workers into massive increases in pay and the length of the working week, and god knows what, this would have been sung from the rooftops.
"Instead it showed that a very key part of what increasing numbers of members of parliament and the public feel is a bullying aspect of Universal Credit is not working. That is why it was buried," he added.
Mr. Field said he now wanted Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey to make a statement on the findings.
"What I hope the secretary of state is now going to say is, we've got these work coaches, they're a key part of the reform, instead of applying sanctions and souring the relationship with claimants the work coaches will get on and look actively at how they can get help claimants improve their earnings".
The Trussell Trust, which runs the UK's largest food bank network, says one in six households who use food banks have at least one person in work, and have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of sanctions.
The organisation's policy manager, Abby Jitendra told Sky News the conclusions of the government trial were "shocking" and called for changes to be made to the way sanctions are used.
"What we want is good evidence that sanctions work and currently there isn't good evidence - we want to see a yellow card system of sanctioning so that the first you are given is a warning, a non-financial warning to explain what your conditions are and we want to see a dramatic reduction in the number of sanctions given out," she added.
In a statement a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "The 'in work progression trials' helped encourage claimants to increase their hours, seek out progression opportunities and take part in job-related training."
"The trials delivered positive results for many of the lowest paid people who claim Universal Credit and we are now considering the findings."
Tom Rayner, Sky News