Esther McVey’s appointment as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been met with anger by Labour MPs and campaigners, who have highlighted cuts and comments she made in her previous role at the department.
McVey was appointed on Monday after then education secretary Justine Greening rejected an offer from Theresa May to move to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), choosing to resign instead.
The former TV presenter’s political career began when she won the Wirral West seat in 2005, which she held until 2015.
Between 2012-2013 she was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, then Minister of State at the DWP from 2013-2015, when she helped Iain Duncan Smith’s department oversee benefit reform, including the ‘bedroom tax’.
McVey returned to Parliament in 2017 winning George Osborne’s old seat in Tatton in Cheshire.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell once referred to McVey as a “stain of inhumanity” for pursuing policies like the bedroom tax. McDonell later refused to apologise saying he was quoting a constituent. She later slammed McDonnell for linking “violence with politics”.
Underlining the sentiment among many in the Opposition, Labour MP Luciana Berger slammed a “terrible appointment, and highlighted what she described as the “worst response to a debate that I’ve sat in”.
1) FOOD BANK SPEECH
“It still haunts me,” Berger said, of McVey’s speech at the food banks debate on 18 December 2013, where she accused Labour of trying to keep them “its little secret”.
Late Labour MP Gerald Kaufman described it at the time as “one of the nastiest frontbench speeches I’ve heard in more than 43 years”.
McVey appeared to be arguing the blame for the rise in foodbank use should be placed at the Labour Party’s door after personal debt and the UK’s debt grew in their watch.
Fellow Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has made similar comments, describing the the growing use of foodbanks in the UK as “rather uplifting”.
The backbench Tory said: “I don’t think the state can do everything.
“It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work.
“And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”
2) TESTING THE DISABLED
In 2013, as Minister for the Disabled, McVey cut the Disability Living Allowance, claiming the system was being abused.
The change, which was delayed for two years, would mean more than 300,000 disabled people would have their benefits cut, she said at the time.
Under the change applicants were required to take medical tests to supposedly weed out fraudulent claims instead of filling in a form.
She told the Mail on Sunday that many people who receive the DLA and are officially classed ‘disabled’ were not.
“Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal.””
The coalition and subsequent Tory governments have argued the reforms will get support to the people who need it the most, and ensure entirely bogus claims are weeded out.
As Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for People with Disabilities, McVey was involved in the dismantling of Remploy as a government-owned employer of disabled people.
The Government closed the last of the 92 factories in 2013 and pledged £8 million to help former staff back to work - but two years later, less than half managed to find work.
McVey was confronted by a Remploy worker, who has learning difficulties, when she visited a factory set for closure in Dundee.
“What the Tories are doing is throwing us on to the scrapheap,” 46-year-old Tony Allen told McVey.
The closure of state-run sheltered factory employment divides opinion. Some argue people with disabilities should not be ‘segregated’ while others contend they provide vital access to work and are an unforgivable betrayal.
4) ‘MISLEADING FIGURES’
McVey was accused of using ‘misleading figures’ in 2013 with regard to Disability Living Allowance, the benefit that was replaced by PIP.
The Disability News Service claimed:
Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, claimed in the Mail on Sunday that coalition plans to abolish working-age DLA had led to a huge increase in applications by people desperate to claim the benefit before it was replaced by the new personal independence payment (PIP).
The article – based on an interview with McVey – talked of an “extraordinary ‘closing-down sale’ effect, with rocketing claims as people rush to get their hands on unchecked ‘welfare for life’ before McVey’s axe falls on April 8”.
But the interview was based on figures, published by the government in late February, which actually show the number of working-age claimants fell by more than 1,600 between February and May 2012.
This week, McVey’s boss, the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, repeated the claims, even though his department had been alerted to McVey’s use of the misleading figures.
5) BENEFIT SANCTIONS
More than 400,000 people lost Jobseeker’s Allowance under government sanctions aimed at ensuring they actively seek work.
About 580,000 sanctions were issued between October 2012 and June 2013, a 6% rise on the same period a year earlier, before rules were changed, the BBC reported in 2013.
The punitive sanctions, it was argued, were not effective in getting people into work, rather they stopped people going to job centres.
6) UNIVERSAL CREDIT
McVey has said the government brought in universal credit to ensure that three million people become better-off, but that’s not the case, as HuffPost has repeatedly detailed.
Lone parent families will be on average £2,380 a year worse off while those with three children lose £2,540.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams called on Tuesday for McVey to “pause the botched rollout” and fix its many problems. Ministers argue the new system will ensure that work is always more of a financial incentive than relying on benefits, and simplify an overly-complicated regime.
7) BEDROOM TAX
McVey championed the ‘bedroom-tax’ claiming it was a way to “tackle overcrowding and to make better use of our housing stock” and combat a £24 billion Housing Benefit bill.
The Guardian noted that two-thirds of those affected were disabled tenants and that if and when they move, the taxpayer may be forced to meet the costs of adapting the new property.
On 1 April 2013 under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the government removed the spare room subsidy. Under the changes, tenants in social housing had their benefit reduced by 14% if they had a spare bedroom or 25% if they had two or more. Two children under 16 of the same gender are expected to share one bedroom, as are two children under 10. On average, a tenant affected by the bedroom tax would lose between £14 and £25 a week, the Guardian noted at the time.
According to Oxford Academic Journal of Public Health: “The bedroom tax has increased poverty and had broad-ranging adverse effects on health, wellbeing and social relationships within this community. These findings strengthen the arguments for revoking this tax.”
8) VOTING RECORD
McVey caused outrage after a party-political Twitter message was sent from her account during the Hillsborough memorial service in 2014.
While shadow health secretary Andy Burnham delivered a speech at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium, a tweet was sent from her MP for Wirral West account saying, “Wirral Labour Party can’t be trusted!”.
The post, given the timing, was criticised for showing a lack of respect.
McVey later apologised.
The MP said she did not send the tweet but took “full responsibility” as it was sent from her account.