IDS Fails on Freedom of Information - As He Did With Us in 2013

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), bane of the lives of unemployed people, has refused a legitimate request for information from a BBC reporter.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), bane of the lives of unemployed people, has refused a legitimate request for information from a BBC reporter.

Iain Duncan Smith's DWP has made a name for itself as one of the most vindictive arms of government since the coalition came into power, far more concerned with saving money than serving its jobless customers, and as useful as a wet paper bag in getting people into work.

It has been found to be using targets to drive sanction numbers ever upwards, its actions are one of the main reasons why people need to use foodbanks, and its latest wheeze is for staff to go into schools to scare children away from claiming benefits.

An investigation by the BBC saw Newsnight's Chris Cook submit the same Freedom of Information (FoI) request to 13 government departments on visits undertaken by ministers.

It was designed with a senior civil servant to be easy to fulfil, to make sure it didn't fall foul of the rules which say the information needs to be easily available, not protected by secrecy regulations and quick to gather.

Only two of the departments - Education and Transport - complied.

Six - including the hated DWP - refused to provide information on the basis that it was all already in the public domain, an obvious falsehood and one easily uncovered.

It is no surprise to us that this happened.

We submitted an FoI request to the DWP on sanctions in 2013, particularly concerned with the growing evidence that targets were pushing numbers ever-upward not because of any rise in offences by unemployed people, but simply to hit an arbitrary number.

This accusation was flatly denied by a senior DWP official.

In response to the question "Do jobcentres have league tables and/or targets for number of benefit sanctions, whether provided from the DWP centrally or by another mechanism?" Neil Couling, the head of Jobcentre Plus, replied "No. As I told the Public Accounts Committee recently."

An internal report by the DWP found shortly after this denial that unapproved targets for benefit sanctions had been implemented in a number of locations, potentially leading to the unreasonable removal of benefits from jobseekers.

The Guardian viewed a copy of the report, which said that some jobcentre staff have been given personal targets for referring jobseekers for sanctions - which remove benefits from claimants if they are believed not to have met conditions fully - but only after being disciplined.

Since then we have also had reports from many jobcentre insiders, including one giving evidence to the sanctions enquiry in Parliament recently, confirming the existence of sanction targets and the threats of disciplinary procedures if they do not comply.

The way the DWP is operating shows why it prefers to work in secrecy, and misleads when given the opportunity to be more open, both to the BBC reporter and us. Its jobcentre activities have become an active barrier to unemployed people getting into work, and recent figures from Oxford University and SOAS show that four out of five of those sanctioned don't find jobs.

Smith's Department has gone rogue, and he must bear the blame.


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