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Work and pensions department ‘could do better’ on science

A review of the use of science, including social science, within the Department for Work and Pensions has found that it needs to address how cuts in research could affect the department in the long term.

The call was a part of recommendations within “Science and Analysis Assurance Review of the Department for Work and Pensions”, published by the Government Office for Science on 25 January.

According to the review, the department should strengthen its focus on longer-term research requirements in the face of cuts.

“Both external stakeholders and DWP officials highlighted to the review a relative lack of strategy to address longer-term strategic needs rather than supporting immediate policy development and operational issues,” reads the review.

“Staff also reported that recent funding pressures have impacted on longer-term research, such as longitudinal surveys, which potentially support a wide range of policy questions but may take many years to produce usable data,” it adds.

Alongside other government departments, DWP was told in May 2010 to make savings of 25 per cent, or £535 million, which included £85m from “discretionary spending”, which includes research.

The review also said DWP should strengthen its use of outside expertise, including carrying out peer review, and turn around its “relatively inward looking approach”.

However, overall the report also found a “strong commitment across the Department to using analytical and scientific evidence to inform the development and the delivery of policy”.

Good practices included the routine publishing of all the department’s externally-commissioned research reports and good planning of its research programme, to prevent duplication.

In a foreword to the review, government chief scientific adviser John Beddington said that he also urged other departments to consider the review findings within their own context.

The review was carried out in early summer 2011, while the department was undergoing substantial restructuring.

Science and analytical activities at the department covered by the review include economics, statistics, operational research and social research, as well as the work of medical practitioners and psychologists in the department.