The government appears to be trying to hide information that could show the impact of major changes to “fitness for work” guidance that risked the lives of thousands of disabled benefit claimants.It is the second time this month that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached the Freedom of Information Act in an apparent attempt to hide the impact of its welfare reforms on disabled people.Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had refused to explain how its new universal credit system of working-age benefits would financially affect disabled people with high support needs.But DWP has also been refusing to release any written documents that describe the impact of significant changes that were made to employment and support allowance (ESA) guidance in December 2015.The changes, which did not need parliamentary approval, were made to the guidance that is given to benefits assessors.The guidance in the work capability assessment handbook explains to assessors how they should translate ESA regulations 29 and 35, which concern whether decisions to find someone fit for work or able to carry out work-related activity would cause a substantial risk of harm.The guidance was designed to prevent people self-harming and taking their own lives.The changes introduced in December 2015 mean that DWP is now far less likely to place a claimant with a mental health condition in the ESA support group because of the risk to their health if forced into work-related activity.Previously, the handbook had included six indicators of “substantial risk”, which were marked “D” for “definitive” – including someone who was currently sectioned, who had active thoughts of suicide, or had had a documented episode of self-harm requiring medical attention in the last 12 months – to show that that person should be placed in the support group.But the December 2015 edition of the guidance said only that such indicators “might” give rise to a substantial risk in “exceptional circumstances”.The month after the new guidance was sent out, the proportion of claimants placed in the support group of ESA began to fall sharply, and it has since remained at a far lower level*.The changes appeared to show that ministers had made a calculation that it was worth risking the loss of some lives so that they could cut benefits spending and force more disabled people into their discredited back-to-work programmes.DNS put in a freedom of information request on 26 January after seeing an equality analysis sent by DWP to freelance journalist Chaminda Jayanetti.In the equality analysis, sent to Jayanetti in November 2016, following a freedom of information request, DWP promises to “monitor and evaluate” the impact of the changes to the guidance.The DNS request in January asked for any written reports that describe the impact of those changes, in the two years since they were introduced.Under the Freedom of Information Act, DWP should have replied to the request within 20 working days, but it failed to respond for more than 30 working days.A DWP spokeswoman told DNS this week: “We are monitoring the impact of the change to the guidance and are still working on our evaluation.”She added: “The Information Commissioner’s Office’s compliance threshold is to answer at least 90 per cent [of freedom of information requests] on time, and in 2017 we answered 93 per cent on time.“According to the last published figures, DWP was the second most transparent government department, meeting 63 per cent of requests in full.”The following day, DWP’s strategy freedom of information team released a short response, claiming that the information requested “is not held by this Department as an evaluation has not been concluded”.DNS has now asked for an internal review of this response, arguing that even if the evaluation is not yet complete, it is likely that some written reports will mention the impact of the change in guidance since it was introduced.*For assessments completed in December 2015, 56 per cent of those applying for ESA were placed in the support group; the following month that fell to 49 per cent, and then to 34 per cent in February, and 33 per cent in March 2016. The latest figures, for September 2017, show 38 per cent were placed in the support group. See data tables, table 2a.
But the Saints showed that a little thing such as a coach trip to the current Champions holds no fears as they continued with last week’s sparkling brand of trademark Saints rugby to win 42-4, writes Graham Henthorne. And indeed Faye Gaskin carried on just where she left off with yet another hat-trick of tries to the creative scrum half.It was her last tackle bomb that was spilled by the Bulls fullback to give the Saints an attacking scrum on the 10 metre line. As the ball came out to her, she then worked a neat run-around move with Roxy Mura standing wide before stepping inside the cover and the full back on her way under the black dot.Gaskin’s kick on the last again got the Saints a repeat set as Leah Burke showed the other side to her game rapidly closing down the fullback.Three tackles later and Captain Tara Jones was hitting Channy Crowl on the burst to bust through the defensive line to score.The Bulls showed that they wouldn’t be total pushovers as, helped by two dubious penalties, they worked and exploited an overlap down their left to go in.But as time went on the Saints’ superior fitness and skill took over leaving the home side often clutching at shadows.Gaskin again showed her nimble footwork side stepping through the cover to go over down the left, unfortunately too wide for her to convert.With five minutes to go to the interval the Saints made the game safe with Crowl’s second score again coming in identical fashion from a Jones’ dummy half pass. But this try can be put down to a fabulous drive from sub Lizzie Gladman. The big prop charged onto the ball scattering would be defenders in her wake to go through before offloading superbly to the supporting Gaskin to put the Saints on the attack.There was just time for the Saints to bomb a chance in the corner as Charlotte Hill couldn’t take Carys Marsh’s miss pass.The second half started with the Bulls trying to lift themselves and it took a great try saving effort from Becca Rotheram, assisted by Crowl and Emily Rudge, to keep the line intact.The Saints had had enough of that, however, and promptly went down the other end to resume normal service.Great drives out of defence from Hill and Naomi Williams topped by another Gladman wrecking ball run and offload to Gaskin saw her find Roxy Mura to go the final 30 metres for a fabulous try.On the hour Hill got a deserved try taking a well-timed pass from Katie-May Williams to go in at the right corner after a great 20 metre drive from her centre Naomi Williams had taken her close.Hill then showed the steel in her character as she came up with a big hit to force a knock-on. From the scrum on half way Burke’s 20 metre run put the Bulls on the back foot and from the play the ball Mura put Gaskin in for her third.From the restart set it was the Mura/Gaskin combination that put Katie-May Williams away with another neat run-around. The centre showed good pace and power to take two over with her.That was it as far as scoring was concerned but there was just time for Vicky Whitfield to show that the Saints aren’t just about the flashy stuff as the sub came up with two superb try saving tackles in the last five minutes to keep the score as it should have been.Don’t get me wrong there is much work to do but for a second hit out, first away from home and with some players who haven’t played for a year or two, this was a great performance.The Saints pack with starting props Dawn Taylor and Sarah Lovejoy backed up off the bench by Whitfield and Claire Mullaney, along with the Rudge’s Isabelle and Emily and Mura and Crowl set a wonderful platform. It was then easy for Tara (when she wasn’t correcting the ref for some interesting decisions), Carys and Faye to set the back line alight.Progress is still being made at the same time as entertaining Saints rugby is being played.Match Summary:Bradford Bulls: Tries: Leah Jones (3). Goals: Jess Courtman 0 from 1.Saints Women: Tries: Faye Gaskin (1, 19 & 63), Channy Crowl (7 & 34), Roxy Mura (47), Charlotte Hill (58), Katie-May Williams (66). Goals: Faye Gaskin 5 from 8.Half Time: 4-22 Full Time: 4-42Teams:Bradford: 1. Savannah Andrade; 2. Annah Simpson, 3. Jess Courtman, 26. Leah Jones, 5. Haylie Nields; 17. Chrissie Nettleton, 7. Stacey Greenwood; 8. Lauren Hickey, 9. Kirsty Moroney, 10. Debbie Smith, 11. Shona Hoyle, 23. Heather MacDonald, 13. Reagan Walker. Subs: **. Stacey Wilson, 14. Memphis Jubb, 16. Dani Titterington, 18. Toni Carroll, 24. Kelly Wood.Saints: 1. Becca Rotheram; 2. Charlotte Hill, 3. Naomi Williams, 4. Katie-May Williams, 5. Leah Burke; 6. Carys Marsh, 7. Faye Gaskin; 8. Dawn Taylor, 9. Tara Jones (C), 10. Sarah Lovejoy, 11. Roxy Mura, 12. Isabelle Rudge, 13. Channy Crowl. Subs: 14. Emily Rudge, 15. Vicky Whitfield, 16. Lizzie Gladman, 17. Claire Mullaney. read more