Skip to content

Activists Claim Police And DWP Are Sharing Data On Protesters

August 8, 2019

The UN’s investigator into global poverty has said innocent people are being caught up in the mass surveillance system used by the UK’s welfare state to combat benefit fraud.

His warning comes as disabled rights activists in the north-west claim that demonstrators with disabilities protesting against austerity cuts are having their personal information passed by police to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Both warnings came before a conference in Belfast on Wednesday on the use of surveillance powers and its impact on social security recipients and asylum seekers.

Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, described it as a tragedy that people imagined that “the ever-more intrusive surveillance system by the UK welfare state” was used only against alleged welfare cheats.

“It’s not. It will soon affect everyone and leave the society much worse off. Everyone needs to pay attention and insist on decent limits,” he said.

Alston said the UK’s surveillance system stood the presumption of innocence on its head. He said this was because everyone applying for a benefit was “screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance”.

Among those to complain that they have been caught up unfairly in the state’s use of CCTV cameras – including footage owned by supermarket chains, access to personal bank statements and conversations on social media – are disabled rights campaigners in Manchester. Advertisement

Rick Burgess, an activist with Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said fears that footage of his members and supporters demonstrating was being passed from police to the DWP had had a “chilling effect” on people’s willingness to protest.

“There are people who are not protesting today because they are terrified by what the DWP might know about them,” he said. “The idea that information the police gather at protests about some of those taking part could be passed to the DWP for welfare fraud investigations is Stasi-like.”

The climate of fear that Burgess and his colleagues describe has been heightened after investigations by the disability activist John Pring. On his Disability News Service website Pring alleged that Greater Manchester police (GMP) had an agreement with the DWP over shared information.

Pring claimed the force had admitted to a “written agreement” between the it and the DWP to share data about benefit claimants who take part in protests against cuts.


He said a formal agreement existed under the guise of the Data Protection Act. Pring also claimed he had evidence of this via a series of freedom of information requests he put in to the force.

“The worrying thing is we don’t know exactly what they are sharing with the department,” he said, pointing out that the GMP had released no details about the alleged agreement.

A spokesperson for the DWP insisted there was “no formal agreement with the police for this scenario”.

“The department does not request referrals from the police and there is no obligation on either the police or members of the public to provide referrals. In the event we receive information from the police, we consider it on its merits,” the spokesperson said.

“As is the case with any responsible government department, we stand ready to assist the police in the event they request information from us for the purpose of crime prevention or detection. This service is provided under the Data Protection Act for the purposes of preventing and detecting crime.”

GMP, however, confirmed that “information is shared between agencies under section 29 of the Data Protection Act”.

A spokesperson said: “This is not specific to protests at all. Information is shared with other agencies as part of wider information sharing for the prevention and investigation of crime, of which it is officers’ lawful duty to do so.”

The issue of surveillance powers by the welfare state was raised at a conference organised by the Right to Work, Right to Welfare campaign, which is being held in West Belfast as part of the Féile an Phobail festival in the city.

No comments yet

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: