It is right to ask whether the Welfare Secretary should resign. But we shouldn't allow parliamentary drama to distract us from the real problem with the schemeby Maya Goodfellow / July 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
An apology and, sometimes, a resignation: these are the two things we’ve come to expect when a minister’s mistake is publicly exposed. That was what former Home Secretary Amber Rudd did in April when she admitted she had “inadvertently misled” MPs over targets for undocumented migrants. Yesterday Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey had to issue this same apology over a statement she had made on universal credit.
But in both cases there’s a much bigger problem behind the specific blunder. In Rudd’s, it was the Windrush affair and the appalling way migrants are treated in Britain. In McVey’s, it is universal credit itself.
McVey had to apologise after she claimed the National Audit Office (NAO)—the independent body that scrutinises public spending for Parliament—said in a report Universal Credit was working and that they were concerned it was being implemented too slowly.
In reality, the NAO report was anything but positive. It found Universal Credit is “not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”; that the government’s own claim that it will boost employment is unlikely to be provable any time soon; and said that, contrary to McVey’s claims, there should be a pause in reforms.
Issuing a surprising letter, auditor general Sir Amyas Morse pointed out that parts of McVey’s statement were incorrect and unproven.
It’s difficult to understand how such a blatant misrepresentation of the report could have been “inadvertent,” but if it were, it still leaves a big question mark hanging over McVey’s head. If Rudd had to go for a similar “mistake,” should Rudd really still be Welfare Secretary?
While this is a valid question, we shouldn’t individualise this saga, or only see it as part the drama of parliamentary politics. The government’s problems go beyond McVey’s statement or the NAO—in fact, to the heart of the universal credit system itself.
Universal credit doesn’t sound like such a bad idea in practice. Instead of six different forms of state support being given separately—from tax credits to housing benefit—what you do need is supposed to be rolled into one monthly payment.
But the Tory flagship welfare…