Well what a surprise: a politician has told lies!
Sorry, all you honest politicians out there! I really shouldn’t imply that all politicians are liars. Of course that isn’t the case. I know there must be politicians out there who have never told a lie, ever. If you are one of these politicians, please leave me a message – in Comments below or the contact form here.
Anyway, Esther McVey appears to be a liar liar pants on fire. And it isn’t some lone kook making the allegation – it is the National Audit Office (NAO): “an independent Parliamentary body in the United Kingdom which is responsible for auditing central government departments, government agencies and non-departmental public bodies” (from Wikipedia). Would a Parliamentary body with such an important remit knowingly make accusations like this if those accusations were untrue? Would a government minister tell lies to cover her own ass and that of a bumbling Tory government? Hmmm…
Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, wrote to McVey on the “misleading statements” (aka lies – why are civil servants and politicians so civil and polite when they are trying to kill each other?) because he had not been able to make an appointment to meet her face to face. And this frustration has led to him making public the content of his letter – the first time that Morse has released personal correspondence with a minister, and is a reflection of the tension between the DWP and the NAO over McVey’s statements.
Okay, so what has McVey been lying about? In June the NAO released a report about Universal Credit, the Conservative government’s flagship welfare “innovation”, which squeezes 6 other benefits into one, and is supposed to make it easier for unemployed people to get back into work. It is paid monthly (while other benefits are normally paid fortnightly), and all claims and enquiries are handled online.
McVey claimed that the NAO report said Universal Credit is being rolled out too slowly, that it was working successfully in those areas where UC has been introduced, and that any criticism of UC was because the report had failed to take into account recent improvements in the payment of benefits.
Sir Amyas Morse said McVey has “misinterpreted” the report “to make it look as if the new welfare system is working well.”
Does the report say that Universal Credit is being rolled out too slowly? Sir Amyas says No!! In fact the report recommended that the DWP should ensure it was working properly before transferring any more people from previous benefits.
Did the report say that Universal Credit is working? Sir Amyas says No!! In fact the report says Universal Credit has not been proven to work.
Did the report fail to take into account recent improvements in welfare administration and payment timeliness? Sir Amyas says No!! He wrote to McVey:
Our report was fully agreed with senior officials in your department [on 8 June]. It is based on the most accurate and up to date information from your department … it is odd that by Friday 15 June you feel able to say that the NAO “did not take into account the impact of our recent changes.”
Although Morse didn’t say “You’re a liar,” that is clearly what was meant. So, will McVey survive this assault on her credibility? Of course she will. For those who refuse to vote Conservative, McVey and her colleagues lost their credibility a long time ago, if they actually had any credibility to start with. For those who are willing to vote for those awful people, McVey automatically is seen as the victim.
McVey apologised for her “misinterpretation” of the NAO report just hours after the release of Morse’s letter.
“The NAO report did not say that [it wanted Universal Credit to be rolled out more quickly] and I want to apologise to the House for inadvertently misleading you. What I wanted to say was that the NAO said there was no practical alternative,” she said.
She also told MPs she was “working on setting up a meeting with the NAO” about other matters, but that she stood by her claims that the auditors’ report did not take into account recent changes to universal credit. “The impact of these changes are still being felt and therefore, by definition, couldn’t have been fully taken into account by the NAO report,” she said.
So really her apology is meaningless as it makes no real difference. Fundamentally she stands by her previous statements.
She is expected to face further parliamentary scrutiny over the debacle after Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, asked the Speaker, John Bercow, for an urgent question as early as Thursday. Field said to the Guardian: “The secretary of state needs to be questioned about the three mega-Trumpisms which the NAO says are untrue.”
Of course he wants her to go, as does every other opposition MP and some Tory colleagues. But will that mean anything? I suppose it comes down to this: does prime minister Theresa May need a blood sacrifice? If she does, McVey is finished. If not, this story will be forgotten soon enough. At the end of the day, no one in power cares about benefit claimants. The welfare minister least of all.