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DWP makes few concessions on improving engagement with Disabled people

25 July 2022

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has issued its response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC’s) January 2021 report that made a series of wide-ranging recommendations on how the DWP could improve its engagement with Disabled people.

The SSAC’s wide-ranging and detailed report focused on how the DWP involves Disabled people when developing, delivering and evaluating social security programmes that affect them.

Highlighting that the level of trust between Disabled people and the DWP has deteriorated over a period of successive administrations, the SSAC made seven recommendations.

However, in giving the DWP’s response to the SSAC, the Minister for Disabled people Chloe Smith fully accepts only two of its recommendations.  

The DWP, she said, does fully accept the following:

  • DWP should 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
  • DWP should rapidly assess areas in which it needs to improve the accessibility of their services and make it a priority to implement solutions

It also partially accepts the following recommendation:

  • DWP should show through leadership actions and messages across the organisation that actively involving all people claiming social security, including Disabled people is central to the Department’s way of working. This should be built into corporate governance arrangements and a non-executive member of the board should be given oversight and report back

The Minister said: “We agree with the importance of leadership in embedding a culture that recognises the value of engaging with Disabled people in the development of policy and services. We are already taking steps to embed learning from external engagement as part of our leadership culture.”

She continued however that “we do not believe that a non-executive member of the board having oversight of disability engagement would add value.”

The Minister also rejects following four SSAC recommendations:

  • DWP should develop a clear protocol for engagement. This protocol should be co-produced with Disabled people. It should be applied consistently and comprehensively
  • DWP should routinely publish information about its engagement
  • DWP should recruit a large panel of Disabled people with experience of social security that it can consult with regularly
  • DWP should routinely build its principles of engagement into its contracting processes

In doing so, the Minister says: “I am pleased to see the progress we have made in engaging with Disabled people recognised in the Committee’s report.

“I share the Committee’s view on the importance of keeping the voices of Disabled people at the heart of health and disability policy development and delivery.

However, I do not agree with several of the Committee’s recommendations because I believe that we can achieve the outcomes of sustained, meaningful engagement with Disabled people in ways other than those identified in the report.”

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said:

In its report, SSAC highlighted that for the DWP to engage with Disabled people more effectively, it needed in particular:

  • to build trust
  • to reach beyond its established working relationships with large national charities to smaller user-led organisations, and directly to Disabled people themselves
  • to get better at seeking out and listening to a wide variety of different experiences, whether this is impairment groups, or Disabled people with other characteristics e.g. particular ethnicities, or facing other challenges

In its own September 2021 Health and Disability Green Paper, the DWP repeatedly acknowledged the deep lack of trust Disabled people have in its policies and procedures.

The way to improve trust and ensure effective policies is to engage with and listen to Disabled people constructively and consistently both individually and via Disabled People’s Organisations.

The four recommendations that the DWP has rejected would make the way it engages with Disabled people much more and not less effective.”

The DWP response: how DWP involves Disabled people when developing or evaluating programmes that affect them is available from gov.uk.