Tory leadership hopeful Esther McVey has been forced to defend her legacy as work and pensions secretary in an excruciating interview on the BBC.
During an interview with Victoria Derbyshire, McVey was grilled about her controversial time leading the DWP in 2018.
While she faced calls to resign last July after she falsely suggested in parliament that an NAO report had called for Universal Credit to be rolled out more quickly, McVey also admitted that some claimants would be “worse-off” under the government’s flagship benefits scheme.
Asked by a viewer on Monday if she would stop “attacking vulnerable and disabled people” if she was PM, the Tatton MP insisted she had “never ever ever” done so, arguing that she had created the ‘Disability Confident’ programme to help disabled people into work.
“When I hear instances – and they are the minority compared to the majority who we help – we have got to say: ‘How do we get that right?’,” she said. “And I don’t dispute that. How do we help those disabled people?”
“You can’t help the people who’ve died, can you?” Derbyshire hit back. “You can’t help the people who died waiting for a decision.”
However, McVey questioned figures about the number of people who had died waiting for a decision from the DWP about their benefits, saying some were already terminally ill when they applied.
Meanwhile, the leadership candidate also queried the validity of the experience of one viewer with autism who had her benefits cut following a decision by the DWP.
After discovering that she was a member of the trade union Unison – which has repeatedly voiced its opposition to Universal Credit – McVey said: “So equally when you’re putting people up here, they have come with a very specific view and a direct opposition.”
“What I’d like also for you to speak to is the millions of people we help every year who I could give you their letters of thanks for what people have done… and that’s millions of people,” the former Cabinet minister said.
Asked how she could live with decisions or delays made by the DWP that led to people dying or taking their own lives during her leadership, McVey insisted the system was “very complicated”, arguing that the department works with some of the most vulnerable people in society.
McVey – who is currently standing against 12 other Tory MPs to replace Theresa May in Number 10 – also used the interview to set out her plans for Brexit, saying she would take the UK out of the EU “deal or no deal”.
“We have to be out on the 31st of October,” she said. “That is the date we need to be out.”