Iain Duncan Smith has lost his latest attempt to keep potentially damning Universal Credit documents secret.
There is a good chance the reports will reveal his department were misleading the public about the progress of the programme.
In November 2011 the DWP issued a press release announcing that over one million people would be claiming universal credit by April 2014, with 12 million claimants moving onto the new benefit by 2017.The following year, the DWP’s Annual Report and Accounts showed that the programme had progressed well. Then in September of that year, the BBC carried a story on concerns raised by the Local Government Association about the implementation of Universal Credit and in particular about the IT system. A spokesperson for the DWP responded at the time by saying: “Universal Credit is on track and on budget. To suggest anything else is incorrect.”
This information is highlighted by Judge Ryan in his final decision, and for good reason. We know now, of course, that the statements coming out of the DWP back then told quite a different story to what actually happened with the programme. Their own figures show that at the last count just little more than 200,000 people are now on the new benefit and recent estimates suggest it’s unlikely to be fully implemented until 2021, some four years later than first planned.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that IDS is desperate to keep the papers out of the public domain. His legal argument is that publication of the documents would have a “chilling effect” on the working of the department. This term may sound like some sort of threat to national security but it’s actually a fairly standard defence against disclosure. Witnesses for the DWP argued that if staff knew that everything they wrote internally was likely to be made public they would be less candid and forthcoming in their opinions. The department also claimed that publication of the documents could allow a hostile press to pick and choose sections of the information to cause the most damage to the department, without providing a full picture.
The Tribunal didn’t agree… The information … could have led to the public having a much a clearer idea of the problems around Universal Credit, long before the DWP finally made them public.
Whether they decide to appeal again remains to be seen. One thing is for certain though, the more IDS fights publication, the more it looks as if he has something to hide.
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