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DWP should recruit a large scale panel of disabled people with experience of social security which it can consult and draw from to work on detailed projects, says SSAC

20 January 2021

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has published a new wide-ranging and detailed report that focuses on how the DWP involves disabled people when developing, delivering and evaluating social security programmes that affect them.

The report highlights that that it is clear that the level of trust between the disabled people and the DWP has deteriorated over a period of successive administrations, during which time a number of significant benefit changes have been introduced.

In meetings with the DWP, officials acknowledged this to the Committee:

“They told us that lack of trust was a major issue; and a barrier not only to joint working but to the effective delivery of their services. They said they wanted our study to give them feedback on how far they had come, and to provide advice on how to improve further. This report is written in that spirit.”

In order that its investigation was “realistic and deliverable”, the SSAC concentrated on how the DWP has been involving disabled people in relation to working age benefits (rather than focussing on disabled children or disabled people of pensionable age). These  benefits it says “have raised some of the most contentious issues”.

In establishing how the DWP is viewed by others, the SSAC spoke to officials from different parts of the Department to better understand DWP’s own perspective, and also held focus groups and meetings with disabled people, their organisations and wider stakeholders to develop an understanding of their views and experiences.

Having done so, the SSAC recommends that the DWP:

“… recruit a large-scale panel of disabled people with experience of social security that it can consult regularly, and draw from, to work on detailed projects. The panel should be sufficiently large that surveys of its members produce valid results, but it should be weighted to include people with different life experiences who can often be overlooked.

In Scotland the equivalent panel has over 2,000 members. When asking panel members to joined sustained pieces of work, DWP should support them with facilitators and capacity building as necessary. DWP should also consider recruiting similar panels at local level to support jobcentres. The DWP should also consider recruiting similar panels at local level to support jobcentres.”

In addition, the SSAC makes a further five recommendations that the DWP should adopt:

  • Develop a clear protocol for engagement: This protocol should be co-produced, and should be applied consistently and comprehensively. It should cover both national and local engagement, and policy design and operational development and evaluation, and should be evaluated and improved over time;
  • Routinely publish information about its engagement: This should include not only terms of reference, membership and minutes of advisory groups, but also how citizens are involved in processes like user-centred design, the lessons that are learnt in that process and what happens as a result. Where it is necessary that the content of discussions remain confidential the DWP could, in line with the approach already taken by Ministers, publish quarterly a list of meetings and subjects discussed;
  • Make increasing use of publicly available, accessible, networking tools: including video-conferencing, to make meetings and other forms of contact more accessible to disabled people, and ensure that officials using the tools are familiar with their accessibility features. In addition, the DWP should supplement these methods with other ways of reaching people who may not be able to use such technology, for example because the software does not work for them, or because of lack of skills, or good access to IT;
  • Routinely build its principles of engagement into its contracting processes: For example, by involving disabled people in co-designing contracts, the methods by which it evaluates bids, and potentially directly assisting it to evaluate bids. The DWP might also build evidence of co-design into the way bids are assessed, and require user-experience metrics;
  • Show through its leadership actions and messages from all leaders across the organisation that actively involve people claiming social security, including disabled people, is central to the Department’s values and way of working. The Department should build its expectations about involving disabled people into its corporate governance arrangements, and the Executive Team should receive regular reports on progress. In addition, a non-executive member of the Departmental Board should be given responsibility for championing disability engagement and to have oversight of the progress being made, reporting back to the Board on the Department’s performance atregular intervals.

The SSAC Occasional Paper 25: How DWP involves disabled people when developing or evaluating programmes that affect them is available from gov.uk