Esther McVey has become the second leading Tory to stab PM Theresa May in the back – with an offer to stand for the Conservative Party leadership.
The claim came just one day before Theresa May postponed (or maybe cancelled) the “meaningful vote” in Parliament on her Brexit agreement with the European Union, amid claims that she was heading for a crushing defeat.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary who quit, possibly to avoid answering difficult questions on the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, made her on the Sophy Ridge show on Sky News:
Asked if she could run for Tory leader, Esther McVey says: “If people asked me, of course I’d give it serious consideration.” #Ridge
— Kevin Schofield (@PolhomeEditor) December 9, 2018
— Richard Coventry (@richardcoventry) December 9, 2018
Some of us asked the obvious straight away:
The question arises !
Who on earth would ask you – given your track record ?
I don't wish to be rude ;
Do you honestly believe the Country would elect a Government led by you ? https://t.co/9qaAYFUZbI
— Clare Hepworth OBE (@Hepworthclare) December 9, 2018
And it’s a good point. Ms McVey had an atrocious record of abominable behaviour toward the citizens of the UK, even before she came back into the government as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I have written about it before, and it is worth refreshing your memory:
As Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for People with Disabilities, she oversaw the dismantling of Remploy as a government-owned employer of disabled people, saying the factories should be “freed from government control” and funding could be better used if spent on helping disabled people into work through individual support. Experience in the years since then has proved this claim to be false. The disability employment gap is widening, with 114 disabled people leaving work for every 100 gaining jobs. And only last month, Chancellor Philip Hammond lied to the nation with a claim that lower productivity in the UK economy was due to disabled people.
In December 2012, Ms McVey boasted that, when Disability Living Allowance (DLA) was replaced by Personal Independence Payments (PiPs), more than 300,000 people would have their benefits cut or removed altogether. She thought it was a good thing.
In January 2013, she did not bother to turn up to a Parliamentary debate on private firm Atos’s handling of the hated Work Capability Assessment of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance, even though she was the minister responsible. She left it to Mark Hoban, then-Minister of State at the DWP, who answered only 10 questions out of dozens that were put to him. In August of that year, she sent Mr Hoban out to lie on her behalf again – on the same subject.
She misled Parliament and the public with regard to Disability Living Allowance, the benefit that was replaced by PIP.
In April 2013, she tried to justify the change from DLA to PIP by saying it was an “outdated benefit” for which “around 50 per cent of decisions are made on the basis of the claim form alone – without any additional corroborating medical evidence.” She also said 71 per cent of claimants were awarded the benefit for life, without checks. These were both lies. In fact, just 10 per cent of claims were based on the 40-page-long form. In 40 per cent of claims a GP’s report was required for a successful claim and in a further 45 per cent of cases further evidence was used, such as information from a social worker or healthcare professional. And six per cent of claimants were called in for a face-to-face assessment. And only 23 per cent of DLA awards were indefinite.
Along with Iain Duncan Smith and the other DWP ministers of the time, she supported the regime of sanctions imposed on those who refused to take part in what was then known as the Work Programme, despite having documentary proof, not only that they don’t work, but that they harm claimants’ families as well as the claimants themselves, and are known to cause suicide. With the others, she supported a change in the law after previous rules were found to be illegal. She procured the suicide of disabled and otherwise disadvantaged benefit claimants.
In October 2013, Ms McVey was rewarded for these lies with a promotion, replacing Mr Hoban as Minister for Employment.
In this job, she started as she meant to go on by praising a fall in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, even though there had been no corresponding increase in employment. In fact, more people were said to be out of work. The drop in the claimant count could be attributed to several other factors: Sanctions, unpaid Workfare or work-related activity schemes, they may have been forced to apply for sickness or disability benefit, they may have been bullied off-benefit by DWP staff or private assessors employed by the Department, or they may have committed suicide. The DWP refuses to follow up on the fortunes of people it has pushed off-benefit, so we simply don’t know.
The following month, she announced that people on sickness benefits would be required to have regular meetings with the kind of “healthcare professionals” who had been pushing as many sick and disabled people as possible off-benefit, with a view to addressing the barriers that stop them getting into work. The implication was that, as their illnesses were not considered to be barriers to work, they weren’t ill at all but were faking it. Ms McVey described this as giving people “the support they need”. In fact, it was about depriving people of support.
Days later, she was back, praising the Bedroom Tax as a way to “tackle overcrowding and to make better use of our housing stock… We have seen our Housing Benefit bill exceed £24 billion – an increase of 50% in just 10 years – and this had to be brought under control”. There were just two problems with that – the Bedroom Tax doesn’t make better use of housing stock (in fact, it increases the likelihood of houses going empty as families are discouraged from moving in, knowing they’ll be forced out when the children leave) and was always likely to increase costs (people moving into private rented property would receive more benefit, and people who have been evicted because they can’t pay their bills after the Tax was imposed will be a burden on councils, who will have to put them up in more expensive B&B accommodation). Again, she was lying in order to make harming people acceptable to the public.
Mere days after that, Ms McVey was forced to admit that the DWP had been lying about the number of people awarded Employment and Support Allowance on their first attempt, by including those who had requested reconsideration after being denied the benefit.
In December that year, Ms McVey was found to have lied about benefit sanctions. She had said they affected only a small proportion of jobseekers – “The vast, vast majority of people don’t get sanctions” – but when the actual number of sanctions (553,000) was compared with the number of people on JSA (1,480,000) it became clear that this was not true.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Tories.
In January 2014, Ms McVey praised a large drop in unemployment claims, without commenting on the fact that there had been a huge leap in the number of people who were without a job but were not claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. I wrote at the time that she had succeeded in making the benefit system the exact opposite of what it was intended to be – pushing people into poverty rather than providing a safety net against it; bullying people into destitution and asking us to celebrate.
Ms McVey next appeared when she spoke in support of a cut in Discretionary Housing Payments, the cash provided for local councils to help people in financial trouble after falling foul of the Bedroom Tax and the so-called welfare cap. She said: “Capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system,” and this was another lie, as the cap was set too low. The government claimed an average family income was £26,000, but in fact it was slightly more than £31,000. The reason the cap was set at the lower figure was that, at the more appropriate amount, hardly anybody would have been affected; the system was fair before the Tories (and the Liberal Democrats, as this was in the time of the Coalition government) interfered.
She also sent a political tweet during the Hillborough disaster memorial service on April 15, 2014 and then tried to deny having done so (“Say I didn’t send it”).
Ms McVey launched Help to Work, a scheme that forced jobseekers to sign on every day, commit to six months of voluntary work, or sign up to a training scheme (the last two effectively removing them from the government’s unemployment figures without getting them a job) – or face having their Jobseeker’s Allowance docked for increasing lengths of time. Of course, voluntary work must be offered without coercion, and this aspect of the scheme meant that Ms McVey was forcing UK citizens into slavery.
In June 2014, Ms McVey was criticised for claiming £17,227 on her Parliamentary expenses, to rent a central London flat. Maximum housing benefit at the time was £250 per week – around £100 per week less than she was scrounging for her flat.
She changed the rules of Jobseeker’s Allowance to make it impossible for unemployed people to refuse zero-hour contract jobs, even though such work could make them worse-off than if they were on benefits.
She reneged on a promise to set up an independent investigation into the appropriateness of sanctions.
She claimed it was impossible to work out the cumulative effect of the Tories’ cuts to benefits. This was proved to be a lie when the independent Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found a way to compile information on the effects of tax, social security and other spending changes on disabled people.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that the DWP’s business case for Universal Credit had been approved by the Treasury; it had not. It seems the Treasury had been signing off on annual budgets only.
The Court of Appeal ruled that Ms McVey’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund was unlawful, saying she did not receive a sufficient understanding of the true threat to independent living for ILF users posed by the proposal to close the fund.
In February 2015, Ms McVey appeared before the Commons Work and Pensions committee to give evidence on the effectiveness of benefit sanctions, but failed to demonstrate that there were any reasonable grounds to show that increasing sanction periods was effective, or what effect increasing the sanction periods would have on claimants. Then-chair of the committee, Dame Anne Begg, concluded of Ms McVey: “I take it from your failure to answer the question that you did not do any research.”
In July 2015, after having lost her Wirral West Parliamentary seat in that year’s general election, Ms McVey refused to say how many of the DWP’s 49 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths concluded that the deaths had been associated with the use of benefit sanctions. She said it was “wrong” of Labour’s Debbie Abrahams to “politicise” and “inflame” the issue. It was later revealed that 10 of the 49 people whose deaths had been investigated had been sanctioned – but the DWP did not say how many times each person’s benefit had been sanctioned off of them.
You can read further details on these matters here.
Since returning to the government as Work and Pensions Secretary, we find no change in either attitude or behaviour:
She was caught lying to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee about the availability of statistics on appeals against Personal Independence Payment decisions.
She caused outrage when she claimed women who have a child as a result of rape would be helped by being forced to speak to a charity worker or health professional as a condition of receiving benefit, because it means they could receive ‘double support’.
She was humiliated in court when a judget said the DWP policy of denying financial support to carers who fall foul of the two-child limit on benefit entitlements is perverse and unlawful.
She used her Conservative Party Conference speech to peddle a ridiculous lie that her government had not cut benefits.
She was found to have been listed as a director of a dodgy Scottish campaigning company. Ms McVey denied this but, rather than contributing to a police investigation, she put a stop to inquiries and attacked the member of the public who had revealed the connection.
Yet now she thinks she has the credibility to be a new Conservative leader. The reaction has been predictable:
Tory Christmas pantomime begins and it will not end well, who needs to watch Scrooge when you have this lot vying for position, putting personal ambition ahead of the country's national interest. Tories not dishing out much festive cheer but a helping of miserable gruel 👎 https://t.co/UxixLXbWqf
— Angela Rayner #Grangela (@AngelaRayner) December 9, 2018
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