The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) boss Esther McVey has not had a good month. As another week draws to a close, she’s faced more stinging criticism of her conduct. It wasn’t from campaigners or the Labour Party, though. It was from a respected, centrist thinktank.
The DWP boss: under fire
The Institute for Government, chaired by “Blairite” peer Lord Sainsbury, is a thinktank well-regarded by “centrists“. Not really known for its far-left views, it says it works “to make government more effective”. But on Thursday 12 July, the institute issued a damning assessment of McVey’s conduct.
Breaking the ministerial code is usually reason enough for a minister to resign – or be sacked. But McVey’s response was far from contrite…
McVey appeared unconcerned about its [the NAO’s] head publicly accusing her of making false claims to Parliament: she offered only a semi-apology while going on to repeat aspects of her original statement.
So what led Guerin to imply the DWP boss should effectively close the door on her way out?
A very British scandal
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 She claimed in parliament that the report was based on out-of-date figures and that the NAO ‘did not take into account the impact of our recent changes’.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.
The NAO hit back at McVey, saying it has seen “no evidence” to support McVey’s claims about its report.
McVey apologised to parliament on 4 July. She said she had “inadvertently” misled it by claiming the NAO said the Universal Credit rollout should be sped up – something it did not say. On 5 July, the DWP boss maintained that she and the DWP disagreed with the NAO’s conclusions. McVey also said she only needed to “apologise for using the wrong words” and making her “interpretation” of the report “incorrect”.
McVey needs to go
As the institute itself summed up:
Setting aside a telling-off by the [NAO]… McVey has escaped unscathed from the Universal Credit row. Effectively she has not been held to account…
In the case of McVey… there appear[s] to be few consequences for ministers who are called out by these watchdogs – even when they have broken the ministerial code.
Twitter seemed to agree with Guerin:
An Atos Medical..?
— James Lloyd.. ✨Stardust✨💫 (@CaptainJimDandy) July 13, 2018
— Deco (@iiDeco_) July 13, 2018
As Guerin summed up:
McVey’s breach is a clear ground for resignation yet… she has faced no consequences for misleading the House. If that doesn’t matter, what does?
The DWP boss is still in her job. If McVey was a welfare claimant, the DWP would have sanctioned her by now.