Politics

Calls to 'sanction' Esther McVey over Universal Credit rejected


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Media captionEsther McVey: “In fact, the NAO did not say that.”

Labour’s attempts to “sanction” Esther McVey for her handling of the rollout of Universal Credit have failed.

A Commons motion calling for the work and pensions secretary to be docked a month of her ministerial pay was rejected by 305 votes to 268.

She apologised last week for misleading MPs about a watchdog’s assessment of the controversial new benefit system.

But she robustly defended progress so far on Wednesday, saying 3.3 million people had been helped into work.

Sanctions are imposed against welfare claimants who are deemed not to have complied with agreed commitments.

Labour’s motion demanded an equivalent penalty to be applied to the minister, saying benefit claimants had been penalised for “far less”.

The motion said people claiming Universal Credit were suffering financial problems but that the government had refused to pause its expansion across the country.

Opening the debate, Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Margaret Greenwood said Ms McVey had “undermined” a “damning” National Audit Office report about Universal Credit, which combines several working-age benefits into a single payment and is currently being rolled out nationwide.

Ms McVey defended the scheme, saying it had helped over 3.3 million people into work.

She demanded an apology from Labour for “misleading statements” about the impact of welfare reform, its record managing the welfare system in government and a remark by Labour’s John McDonnell during the 2015 general election campaign about “lynching” her.

Last week the secretary of state said she had “mistakenly” told MPs the National Audit Office felt the benefit was progressing too slowly and should be rolled out faster and apologised for “inadvertently misleading” Parliament.

But she stood by her assertion that the NAO had not been able to examine the impact of recent changes to how claimants were receiving their payments as they “were still being felt and by definition, couldn’t have been fully taken into account by the report”.

In May Labour tried a similar technique on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling but its bid to fine him the cost of a railway season ticket was outvoted.



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