Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) secretary Esther McVey is in trouble. She has been slated by the National Audit Office (NAO) over her claims about the government’s flagship benefit, Universal Credit. And MPs are claiming that she lied to parliament.
As The Canary previously reported, the NAO released a damning report into Universal Credit on 15 June. But McVey refused to accept the findings. She claimed in parliament that the report was based on out-of-date figures and that the NAO “did not take into account the impact of our recent changes”. She also claimed that Universal Credit was working.
But the NAO has hit back and it has written to McVey to “clarify the facts”.
A damning report
Findings from the NAO’s report included:
- Claimant satisfaction with Universal Credit was no higher than with previous benefits [pdf, p31]. Increased satisfaction was one of the DWP’s measures of success.
- DWP staff found it “difficult” to properly identify and support “vulnerable” claimants [pdf, p33-34].
- The DWP ‘underestimated’ the impact Universal Credit would have on some claimants [pdf, p34] and didn’t measure the impact on, or hardship suffered by, claimants [pdf, p35].
- That, from January to October 2017, 20,000 households waited 11 weeks or more for payments, and 10,000 waited “almost five months or more” [pdf, p38].
- Rent arrears increased where Universal Credit was rolled out [pdf, p46].
- Food bank use increased [pdf, p48].
A ‘reluctant’ letter
The NAO claims to have written to McVey “reluctantly” after being unable to meet with her. But the letter doesn’t pull any punches.
Regarding its use of figures, the letter states:
Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your department. It is based in the most accurate and up-to-date information from your department. Your department confirmed this to me in writing on 6 June and we then reached final agreement on the report by 8 June. It is odd that by 15 June you you felt able to say the NAO ‘did not take into account the impact of our recent changes’. You reiterated these statements on 2 July but we have seen no evidence of such impacts nor fresh information.
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The NAO also takes aim at McVey’s claim that the benefit is working:
I’m also afraid that your statement in response to my report claiming Universal Credit is working has not been proven. The department has not measured how many Universal Credit claimants are having difficulties and hardship. We also know that 20% of claimants are not paid in full on time and that the department cannot measure the exact number of additional people in employment as a result of Universal Credit.
National Audit Office “reluctantly” writes to Esther McVey complaining of inaccuracies in her statements on universal credit. Says report was fully agreed with DWP. pic.twitter.com/XnEkdR3i2n
— Ashley Cowburn (@ashcowburn) July 4, 2018
Misleading, or just “lying”?
Some accuse McVey of misleading parliament:
Another minister misleading us all. Esther McVey misled MPs over universal credit, says watchdog https://t.co/ROTjtswoMc
— Tony Lewis #FBPE (@tonyplewis) July 4, 2018
Others, like Green MP Caroline Lucas, point out that she is accused of “lying”:
Things have reached a new low when the National Audit Office accuses a Cabinet Minister of lying. #UniversalCredit is failing, and if Esther McVey is not up to the job of sorting it out – as seems to be the case – then she has to go. https://t.co/4Y8hSoTB5M
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) July 4, 2018
And at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 4 July, McVey issued a partial apology.
She’s got to go!
Many have called for McVey to resign or be sacked, including Labour MP Toby Perkins:
Whilst there is huge cynicism of Politicians, the truth still matters. We should still be shocked when Ministers say things they know to be untrue, that's why, even in this government, where standards are lower than ever before, if Esther McVey lied she should resign. https://t.co/02zT74yQix
— Toby Perkins (@tobyperkinsmp) July 4, 2018
Undoubtedly, McVey should resign. But her resignation will do little to help the thousands of people whose lives have been made a misery due to Universal Credit.
It’s time to stop the deception. Universal Credit isn’t working, and the DWP is not fit for purpose.
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