Esther McVey: Her appointment as Work and Pensions Secretary means I can use this evil-eyed image of her again.
You knew This Writer would have a few things to say about this.
In a characteristic departure from anything resembling reason, sense or sensitivity, minority prime minister Theresa May has named Esther McVey as her new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
The announcement is certain to ramp up levels of anxiety, stress and fear among the unemployed, together with those who have long-term illnesses and disabilities.
Some may even be pushed to suicide because of it. Others may die because the decision to appoint Ms McVey may worsen their physical health conditions.
There would be good reason for them to behave in such a manner, too: They remember the performance of the woman known as “Fester McVile” in her previous role as Minister for Employment.
Here’s a quick summary, courtesy of the Daily Mirror‘s Kevin Maguire:
Keith Cameron, of A Letter A Day to Number 10 fame, was more to-the-point:
Some concentrated on just one detail – a speech by Ms McVey on December 18, 2013, in which she praised the rise of food banks (meaning she was also praising the increased poverty that caused this phenomenon):
Let’s add a little more flesh to the criticisms.
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.
It is well worth examining Ms McVey’s contribution to the food bank debate, mentioned in tweets by other commenters which I have quoted (above). This Writer published an article about it at the time, and here‘s what I wrote about what she said:
Esther McVey’s speech showed clearly why she should have remained on breakfast television, where comparatively few people had to put up with her. She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
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 Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year– but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Then, on top of all that, she had the nerve to tell the country, “Rewriting history doesn’t work.” If that is the case, then hers was one of the most pointless speeches in the history of Parliament.
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. For those having trouble believing this claim, I provided examples to support it in my article:
“You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the job centre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.”
“You have a job interview which overruns so you arrive at your job centre appointment nine minutes late. You get sanctioned for a month.”
“Your job centre advisor suggests a job. When you go online to apply it says the job has “expired” so you don’t apply. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks.”
“You are on a workfare placement and your job centre appointment comes round. The job centre tells you to sign on then go to your placement – which you do. The placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months.”
These are all real experiences of real jobseekers – not scroungers, skivers or layabouts, as reported in a Vox Political article last month.
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.
On April 27, 2014, Ms McVey’s Wikipedia entry was edited by, as This Writer described it at the time, “somebody with a social conscience”, as follows:
For a short period earlier today, it seems the entry began: “Esther Louise McVey (born 24 October 1967) is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Wirral West since 2010, and the Assistant Grim Reaper for Disabled People since 2012, second only to Iain Duncan Smith. She was previously a television presenter and businesswoman before deciding to branch out into professional lying and helping disabled people into the grave.” [Italics mine]
The edits have since been erased but at the time of writing, the entry starts: “Esther “no brains” McVey (born 24 October 1767)”.
Also embarrassing for the Employment Minister is the section on her Twitter faux pas during the memorial service on the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster (April 15 this year). It reads: “McVey was criticized by social media users for attacking the Wirral Labour Group in a tweet published at the time a memorial service for the Hillsborough Disaster was being held at Anfield Stadium. She later, in a radio interview with BBC Radio Merseyside, claimed to regret the mistiming of her communication. During this interview, a voice can clearly be heard whispering, ‘Say I didn’t send it’.”
That’s right – she also sent a political tweet during the Hillborough disaster memorial service on April 15, 2014 and then tried to deny having done so.
A later change to the Wikipedia entry stated: “Many opponents believe she is a very unpleasant woman with no understanding of the issues faced by disabled people and seems to be on a vendetta to annihilate them alongside Iain Duncan Smith and supported by the Conservative leading figures.”
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.
Her own constituents launched a campaign to remove her from the government, around the same time the DWP was caught out releasing faked tweets.
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.
Put all of the above together and you can see that Ms McVey is what the police might call “a right little charmer” – in other words, the nastiest piece of work one could ever hope to meet.
She is a habitual liar, determined to push through policies that cause the maximum harm to citizens of the United Kingdom.
Her behaviour is a matter of public record.
Theresa May knows this – but has appointed her as Work and Pensions Secretary anyway.
Clearly Mrs May wants Ms McVey to do her vile worst. Expect many claimant deaths, followed by multiple mealy-mouthed justifications.
I’ll leave you with a few comments on Ms McVey’s return to the DWP. At the time of writing, it is very late, so I’ll forgo any commentary on them.
Ms Wayling later corrected herself; she meant that Ms McVey lost her seat in the 2015 election for the reasons she mentioned, and went on to add that Ms McVey had been parachuted into the Tatton seat in 2017, being quickly elevated to the Whips’ office after Michael Fallon’s removal as Defence Secretary, and becoming Work and Pensions Secretary now.
Not for Esther McVey’s victims, it won’t!