DWP beefs up stats processes after breach by 'unnamed comms officer'

The Department for Work and Pensions says it has put "additional measures in place" to prevent a repeat of an apparently accidental release of information relating to jobs data, which earned the department a telling off from the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA).

DWP: Reflecting on its stats handling process (Credit: Steven May/Alamy Stock Photo)
DWP: Reflecting on its stats handling process (Credit: Steven May/Alamy Stock Photo)

On Friday, the UKSA's head of assessment Ed Humpherson wrote to DWP permanent secretary Sir Robert Devereux, saying he had become aware that information relating to that Wednesday's Labour Market Statistics release "had been shared by the DWP with up to 300 people, through a social media network ahead of the publication".

The "social media network" referenced by Humpherson was an internal network used by DWP and Office for National Statistics staff - although the DWP has referred to it instead as a "project management platform". It is understood that the breach was reported by a member of ONS staff who used the system.

That information did not include statistics themselves, but was commentary relating to that data. It has been widely reported that this was published 10 minutes before the official publication time, and The Times said it was done by an "unnamed communications officer" who was covering work for a colleague on leave.

Humpherson's letter implies this was likely to have breached the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and the Pre-Release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008, and that the UKSA was "deeply concerned about the impact that breaches (and apparent breaches) relating to the unauthorised, widespread sharing of statistics before their publication may have on the trustworthiness of the UK’s official statistics system".

He also wrote: "I would welcome your assurance that you will review – and improve where necessary – the processes relating to the handling of pre-release access within your department to ensure that such an occurrence cannot and will not happen again."

A spokesman for the DWP said: "We’re committed to complying in every way with the rules set out by the UK Stats Authority. We have put additional measures in place and will respond formally to the UKSA shortly."

The UKSA will soon publish its official report into the breach, after the formal response from the department.

In August last year, it was revealed via a Freedom of Information request that leaflets published by the DWP had included fictional jobseekers portrayed by stock photos as evidence for the success of a controversial government policy. The matter was investigated by the CIPR, but the body's case was closed when it was told none of its members were involved in the leaflets' production.

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