- Theresa May’s Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, faces calls to resign over suggestions she “misled” parliament over the government’s landmark Universal Credit scheme which overhauls the benefits system.
- McVey is under pressure to step down following an explosive letter from the government spending watchdog, which accuses McVey of making “incorrect” claims about the government’s new benefits scheme in parliament.
- The head of the spending watchdog said that McVey had refused to meet him, misrepresented his report, and suggested her claim that Universal Credit is working “has not been proven.”
- McVey apologises for “inadvertently misleading” MPs.
LONDON – The UK Work and Pensions Secretary has been forced to apologise for “misleading” Parliament following an explosive letter from the government spending watchdog, which accused her of making “incorrect” claims about the government’s new benefits scheme.
The extraordinary letter from the National Audit Office (NAO) came after she disowned its highly critical report on Universal Credit, the government’s troubled attempt to overhaul the benefits system, the roll-out of which McVey is responsible for.
McVey, the work and pensions secretary, told MPs last week that the damning study – which highlighted the severe financial problems caused for claimants by delays in receiving payments under the new system – was out-of-date.
But Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse took the highly unusual step of writing an open letter to McVey to rebut her claims and to “clarify the facts,” suggesting the report had been “fully agreed” with senior officials at her department days earlier.
He said McVey had refused to meet him, misrepresented his report, and said her claim that Universal Credit is working “has not been proven.”
McVey denied intending to mislead Parliament.
“While speaking in parliament in answer to questions to the NAO I mistakenly said the NAO had asked for the rollout of universal credit to be continued at a faster rate and be speeded up,” she told the Commons.
“In fact, the NAO did not say that Mr Speaker and I want to apologise to you and the House for inadvertently misleading you.”
“McVey appears to have misled parliament”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said McVey should “consider her position.”
“This is a very serious matter,” Greenwood said.
“Esther McVey appears to have misled parliament in misrepresenting the findings of the NAO report,” Greenwood said.
“She sought to rubbish the NAO report, rather than respond to its findings, which were damning of her government’s flagship social security policy, even though her own department had agreed [on] the report prior to its publication.
Things have reached a new low when the National Audit Office accuses a Cabinet Minister of lying.
Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “Things have reached a new low when the National Audit Office accuses a Cabinet Minister of lying.”
“Universal Credit 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,” Lucas said.
The Ministerial code states that “[it] is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”
Morse also indicated in the letter that McVey had knowingly agreed to the contents of the NAO’s report before she disowned it before MPs in Parliament.
“Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your department,” he wrote.
“It is based on 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 felt able to say the NAO ‘did not take into account the impact of our recent changes’,” he added.
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