Welfare Minister Esther McVey is a liar shock horror!


Esther McVey, Welfare Secretary – she needs to be careful or she might end up seeing how Universal Credit works from a claimant’s point of view!

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.


National Audit Office chief Sir Amyas Morse has called Esther McVey on her “misinterpretation” of the NAO report on Universal Credit


JK Rowling tells the government: “Stop picking on the poor!”


JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels and President of the single parent group Gingerbread, has written on the group’s website that she is “prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life.”

She is sick of the “skiver vs striver” oratory from the government. She remembers her own experience of being a single parent on benefits as one when she experienced patronisation and stigmatisation. She writes:

My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing – there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it – but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen. I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother. I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps?

Single parents were not popular in certain sectors of the establishment or media in the mid-nineties. I could not raise a smile over the government minister of the time singing a merry ditty about ‘young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue.’ Newspaper articles discussed single mothers in terms of broken families and anti-social teenagers. However defiant I might feel about the jobs I was doing round the clock (full-time mother, part-time worker, secret novelist), constant bombardment with words like ‘scrounger’ has a deeply corrosive effect. Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are.

Then came the literary success – and the stigmatisation still remained.

I became Single Parent Writes Award-Winning Children’s Book/Earns Record American Advance/Gets Film Deal. One of the first journalists to interview me asked me whether I hadn’t felt I ought to be out looking for a job rather than ‘sitting at home writing a novel.’ By some miracle I resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to punch him and subsequently decided to channel my frustration a little more positively by becoming a Patron of what was then called the National Council for One Parent Families (now Gingerbread).

A Gingerbread survey in 2011 found that 87% of single parents think there is a stigma around single parenthood that needs to be challenged and one in three say that they have personally experienced it. Rowling finds the “skivers vs strivers” rhetoric particularly offensive when it comes to single parents, who are already working around the clock to care for their children. Such rhetoric drains confidence and self-esteem from those who desperately want to get back into the job market.

Unfortunately, the stigmatisation and the “skivers vs skivers” rhetoric isn’t going away any time soon – it seems to underpin most of the government’s public spending plans. At the moment, a single woman’s benefit is affected if she has children; but soon, when the government’s Universal Benefit comes into effect, a single mother will get the same benefit as a single woman with no children. And this is just one aspect of the government’s way of thinking. As Rowling puts it:

A statement by a government minister late last year that ‘people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks – they’ve got least to lose’ speaks to a profound disconnect with people struggling to keep their heads above water. In some cases – and I was once one of those cases – what you might lose is enough food to eat, a roof over your head: the fundamentals of life and existence, magnified a million-fold when it is your child’s health and security you stand to lose.

Go check out Rowling’s piece, here. And you can join the Gingerbread campaign to Make it work for single parents and help push for realistic policy changes that will help single parents find decent jobs that provide for their families.


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Kids gotta eat, don’t they?


The ConDem’s “Universal Credit” benefits overhaul is fulla bad, as one might expect of a scheme dreamed up by Cameron and Osborne as a way to kill as many poor people as possible before 2015 (that’s when the next general election is due – and fewer poor people = fewer votes against the Tories). But there is some good that could come from the Universal Benefit plan. As 38 Degrees explained to me in a recent email, the introduction of the new benefits system means the government could easily decide to extend free school meals to all children living in poverty. And there are plenty of impoverished families in Britain: up to 1.2 million kids are missing out on free school meals. And as free school meals are often the only decent meals a kid gets to eat every day, this all adds up to one huge shed-load of malnourished children living here in Britain, one of the richest nations in the world.

Should this sad state of affairs be allowed to continue? Or should our children – our nation’s future – get a proper meal at least once a day? I know what I think. And I really really hope you think the same.

You can help 38 Degree’s campaign to feed our children really simply. And it won’t cost you a penny. All you gotta do is follow this link: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/school-meals. Really, it’s as simple as that. Think of those schoolchildren you see when you’re on your way to work. Chances are, some of them haven’t eaten breakfast and probably won’t get anything to eat when they return from school later. Don’t let children in Britain starve to death. Click the link: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/school-meals

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I wonder how many British children died of malnutrition while you thought about clicking the link?

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