Amber Rudd’s appointment as the new work and pensions secretary has come under scrutiny after the emergence of “inflammatory” statements she has made in the past about benefit claimants.
Welfare campaigners said it was “dangerous” to have the Tory MP in charge of the UK’s benefits system following her role in the Windrush scandal – which led to her resignation – and her remarks about unemployed people in Hastings.
While some had suggested the former home secretary might lead an overhaul of the department, concerns have also been raised about a parliamentary record that shows she has consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits and against raising welfare benefits in line with prices.
In 2013, Ms Rudd said in an interview with the Financial Times: “You get people who are on benefits, who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job, they’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink.”
Alex Tiffin, universal credit claimant and welfare journalist, said Ms Rudd’s “inflammatory statements” would “make it hard for people to believe she has any compassion for the vulnerable in society”.
He added: “Her appointment will change nothing. She is loyal to Theresa May and wouldn’t risk doing anything that makes any previous decision wrong.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Amber Rudd is the latest in a long line of DWP ministers determined to continue the hostile environment for disabled social security claimants.
“Her ludicrous claim that universal credit is working would be laughable if it wasn’t causing such grave harm to disabled people and women and children in particular.
“Her appointment comes as no surprise, however, we wait to see which safe constituency she will be given in the next general election as voters in Hastings do not seem to like her much.”
Theresa May appointed Ms Rudd as the new secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions last week after Esther McVey stood down from the role on Thursday in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
In her first Commons appearance in the role, Ms Rudd launched an attack on a UN report about the state of poverty in Britain.
She said the language used by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights was “wholly inappropriate” and “discredited a lot of what he was saying”.
Friday’s report found that government policies and drastic cuts to social support were entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world – and Brexit was exacerbating the problem.
Chrissy Brand, a spokesperson for campaign group People’s Assembly Against Austerity in Hastings, Ms Rudd’s constituency, said that following the Windrush scandal, it was “dangerous” to have her in charge of the welfare system.
She said: “It’s bad enough for the local community having Amber Rudd as our out of touch and destructive MP; it’s positively dangerous for the country to have her as the new work and pensions secretary, months after she had to resign due to her part in the Windrush scandal which destroyed so many lives.
“She is discredited. She says that universal credit has done great things for the people of Hastings. Wrong, there has been an 80 per cent increase in food bank use here over the past year because of that, and as a direct result of her and the Tories’ eight years of austerity and cuts of vital local services.
“She only got voted in due to privileged Tories in the Rye part of the Hastings and Rye constituency. The majority of Hastings despise her policies.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Amber Rudd took office just as the UN special rapporteur’s report on extreme poverty and human rights set out the harsh and punitive nature of the social security system that the Conservatives have created.
“She has a unique opportunity to end the severe hardship that people are suffering as a direct result of her government’s policies.
“She should stop the rollout of universal credit, end the punitive sanctions regime and deliver a social security system that supports people instead of punishing them.”
Since becoming work and pensions secretary, Ms Rudd has claimed universal credit “transformed lives” and pledged to “iron out” problems with the new benefit system – which has been accused of leaving vulnerable people destitute.
The Independent has contacted the Department for Work and Pensions for comment.
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