Tories see off Labour bid to 'sanction' Esther McVey over 'failing' Universal Credit
Tory MPs have seen off a Labour bid to dock Esther McVey's pay over her handling of the controversial Universal Credit welfare overhaul.
The under-fire Work and Pensions Secretary was forced to apologise to MPs last week after the boss of the National Audit Office spending watchdog savaged the way she responded to a highly-critical report on the benefits shake-up.
Labour used an opposition debate today to pile further pressure on the Cabinet minister, seizing on arcane parliamentary rules to try and dock her pay in a deliberate echo of the way Universal Credit claimants can be penalised.
But the Government comfortably saw off the attempt to leave Ms McVey red-faced, with 268 MPs voting in favour of the motion and 305 opposed.
The vote followed stormy exchanges in the House of Commons which saw Ms McVey repeatedly heckled by Labour and SNP MPs.
Her Labour opposite Margaret Greenwood said the NAO’s report into Universal Credit had been “damning”, and she blasted the “shockingly complacent” attitude shown by Ms McVey to the watchdog’s findings.
“Universal Credit is failing to achieve its aims, and there is currently no evidence that it ever will,” she fumed.
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary added: “The NAO raised issues of real concern about the impact on claimants, particularly the delays in payment which are pushing people into debt, rent arrears, or even forcing them to turn to foodbanks to survive.”
But as MPs lined up to speak about constituents who had faced problems with Universal Credit, a defiant Ms McVey sought to shift attention to the opposition.
When former Treasury chief secretary Liam Byrne said a constituent of his had been left unable to afford socks for her children, Ms McVey brought up a 2010 letter the Labour MP had left for his Tory successor which said there was “no money left”.
“To be fair, everyone, he actually has some honour because that was correct,” Ms McVey said.
She also demanded that Labour apologise for problems with the Gordon Brown-era system of tax credits, and called on the party’s frontbench to say sorry for Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s controversial 2014 comments about “lynching” her.
“I was hoping the Shadow Chancellor would be here today,” she said. “Because actually I was waiting for years for [an apology for] a lynching comment against me. Of course we never got that apology.”
'GETTING PEOPLE INTO WORK'
Ms McVey meanwhile insisted that the Universal Credit overhaul - which aims to bring six existing benefits into one payment - would “assist people into work in this new, technological era” and allow people to become “greater, more economically secure, and progress in life”.
“This is about getting people into work and that’s precisely what we are doing,” she said.
She also repeated claims that the welfare reform had resulted in “over 3.3 million more people” returning to work, despite the watchdog questioning the DWP's figures.
The NAO cast doubt on whether it would "ever be possible [...] to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved”.
While Labour MP Frank Field - who chairs the powerful Commons Work and Pensions Committee - urged colleagues to dial down personal abuse against Ms McVey, he warned that Universal Credit was forcing people into "unnecessary suffering and hunger".
He said the debate over the NAO report had left him "questioning what facts are" and urged the Work and Pensions Secretary to pause the roll-out of the controversial welfare shake-up.