The Tories today broke their unofficial stance of mainly ignoring opposition day debates, to swoop in and save Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey from being ‘sanctioned.’
A opposition day motion to force Esther McVey to effectively be sanctioned two weeks of her ministerial salary was today voted down in the House of Commons. Usually Tory MPs are told not to attend these so they can ignore any motions passed. An example of this was when a motion was passed calling for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be halted. The government basically pretended nothing happened.
So today the vote being 305 against the motion and 268 in favour, is some what of an anomaly.
Labour piles on the pressure
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margret Greenwood opened the debate. She was scathing in her criticism of Esther McVey for misleading parliament and stated that McVey should be considering her position.
She reminded her that former Home Secretary Amber Rudd had the moral dignity to resign when she did something similar regarding the Windrush Scandal.
Greenwood was met by barrage after barrage of requests for give way. In the beginning she gave way with respect but, as she went on she would get three words out before being asked to give way.
Due to time constraints she advised that she would no longer give way. An angry Tory backbencher halted proceedings to raise a point of order on her refusal to give way.
He was firmly knocked back by the deputy speaker who advised him; “it is up to the Rt Hon Member to decide if she gives way and that it is not correct to raise points of order in this manner.”
She reminded McVey that the National Housing Association reported that over half of Universal Credit claimants that rent privately are in debt and that landlords are feeling the pinch because of late payments from the Department for Work and Pension – DWP.
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary closed by asking for assurances that The DWP will follow the National Audit Office’s advice and halt the roll-out until they are ready for higher claim volumes.
McVey shows no remorse
The Work and Pensions Secretary started defiantly, and had the audacity to ask Labour for an apology for misleading the public over Universal Credit Statistics.
Rather than address the points raised, McVey side tracked by asking where Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was., saying “she was hoping for an apology” for his statement at a private event in 2014 were he stated Esther McVey should be “lynched.”
She then went on to lie again by stating; Tax Credit error rates were 10%. Two weeks ago I reported that the overall error rate as reported by HMRC was 2.1%. It was actually shown by the government themselves; the the HMRC and DWP lose more money sue to their own errors than to fraud.
She then went onto, (as she did several times), to go on about how “since 2010 we’ve helped 1000 people a day into jobs.”
She seems to fail to grasp that yes welfare is about helping people into work but, it;s also about supporting those who are unable to work. Her most daring statement was when she closed.
SNP tears into her but offers an olive branch
SNP Welfare spokesmen Neil Gray started strong claiming that Esther McVey doesn’t have the ability to apologise for her mistakes. Then he was damning when he said that;
“The National Audit Office report blew a hole as wide as the Clyde in the governments claims.”
He pushed her on her on the governments claim that 8 billion pounds will be saved with the introduction of Universal Credit. Citing the NAO report he reminded her that it says that there is no evidence to support this and that is made on unproven assumptions.
Labour’s Jim Cunningham intervened by asking “what about those who cannot work?” Gray agreed that welfare should indeed not only be about getting those into work but supporting those who cannot.
He again reminded McVey that the NAO report found 40% of claimants were facing hardship because of the benefit.
His main point that I cannot stress the importance of was; The government will brush off all evidence that doesn’t support their Utopian view of Universal Credit.
Citing the Trussell Trust’s figures that found a 52% increase in foodbank use in full service Universal Credit areas, he stated that the government called that evidence “anecdotal.”
The went onto to quote the Joseph Rowantree Foundation saying that; “Universal Credit is destitution by design.”
He did however show real leadership by offering to work with the government to make changes so as Universal Credit can be improved. This was starkly different than Labour’s concentration on bashing Esther McVey.
I’m not saying she didn’t deserve it but, it was never going to achieve much. McVey smirked throughout the debate and, in my opinion did not care one bit.
Neil Gray stated that the removal of the Severe Disability Premium, saw disabled claimants £4000 a year worse off.
He closed by again by offering to work with the DWP to improve the system so it can work for all.
Best of the rest
Throughout the debate there were numerous speeches and interventions by Tory MPs. One thing that was really noticeable was that they would claim jobcentre staff in their areas loved Universal Credit. This was then polar opposite of non Tory MPs who had some truly horrific stories about what constituents had gone through.
One Labour MP did raise a fine point, most Tory MPs making this claim, live in very affluent areas were benefit uptake is lower than the national average.
The steady stream of Tories commending Esther McVey for a good job rose as the chamber began to fill up. At this point it was if the government had imposed a three line whip to protect McVey.
In the end the motion was defeated by 305 to 268. But I do not think that this will be the end of it. The Work and Pensions Committee is still investigating the roll-out of Universal Credit and Labour’s Frank Field is a man on a mission with that.
Not to mention that almost weekly there is more and more damning evidence that Universal Credit is harming the most vulnerable.
I think that despite McVey keeping her job this time, mainly because of the Brexit Shambles, her time is limited. How long can she keep putting out the party line that it’s working when there’s so much evidence to show that’s a lie?
Who knows, but hopefully not too long. For everyone on benefits sake.
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