WORK and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has apologised to Parliament for making ‘inadvertently misleading’ statements about Universal Credit. She said she had ‘mistakenly’ told MPs on Monday that the National Audit Office felt the benefit was progressing too slowly and should be rolled out faster.
The head of the spending watchdog had said the claims were ‘incorrect’.
Labour then called on McVey to apologise or ‘consider her position’. McVey told MPs that she had meant to say that the spending watchdog believed there was ‘no practical alternative’ to the development of Universal Credit, which rolls six benefits into one.
Asked earlier about McVey’s conduct, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May said her colleague would be ‘correcting the record’. The head of the NAO, Sir Amyas Morse, took the unusual step of writing to McVey to take issue with how she responded to the report.
Speaking in the Commons on 2nd July, McVey said the report had not taken into account ‘significant’ changes recently made and their impact on the number of people being paid on time and in full. She said 80% of claimants had received their payments in full and on time, and of the 10% who had not received any money within the first month, this was down to problems with self-verification and not fulfilling their commitments.
In response to further questions from Labour MPs, she said the watchdog was ‘also concerned that it was rolling out too slowly… and needs to continue at a faster rate.’ But Sir Amyas said the report had been based on the most up-to-date information and had been ‘fully agreed’ with DWP officials a week before its release.
He added: ‘I’m afraid your statement that the NAO was concerned Universal Credit is currently “rolling out too slowly” and needs to “continue at a faster rate” is also not correct. ‘While we recognise regrettable early delays, my recommendation made clearly on page 11 of the report is the Department must now ensure it is ready before it starts to transfer people over from previous benefits.
‘This will avoid the Department’s performance declining further as it faces higher claimant volumes. ‘I also recommended the Department learns from experiences of claimants and third parties, as well as the insights it has gained from the roll-out so far.’ He said it had not been calculated how many claimants were experiencing difficulties or hardship but it was known that 20% of claimants were not paid in full on time and 25% said they couldn’t make an online claim.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood had said McVey had ‘appeared to mislead Parliament’ which was a ‘very serious matter’.
She had called on McVey to make a full apology or ‘consider her position’.