The appointment of Esther McVey as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is “hugely worrying” for vulnerable people in Britain, campaigners and MPs have warned.
Ms McVey’s previous claims that it is “right” that people are using food banks, and her opposition to raising welfare benefits in line with prices, have prompted concern that her leadership will “not bode well” for those in need of government support.
The MP for Tatton was promoted to the role on Monday evening after it was turned down by former Education Secretary Justine Greening, as part of an attempt by the Prime Minister to reshuffle her Cabinet.
She lost her Wirral West seat to Labour candidate Margaret Greenwood in 2015, where she had been an MP since 2010. She was elected as Conservative MP for Tatton in 2017, replacing George Osborne.
Ms McVey, who was minister for disabled people between 2012 and 2013 under Iain Duncan Smith, has prompted anger in the past over comments she made praising the use of food banks, as well as announcing a cut in support to more than 300,000 disabled people when Disability Living Allowance was replaced by Personal Independent Payment (PIP).
Labour accused her of being the “key architect” of the “most draconian and incompetent” social security reforms the UK has seen, during her time as minister for disabled people.
Records reveal that Ms McVey has consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices, and against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability.
She has also voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms, and for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support.
The records published on TheyWorkForYou also show Ms McVey has almost always voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed, and consistently voted against LGBT rights.
Responding to her appointment to the role, Shadow minister for the DWP Debbie Abrahams told The Independent: “The DWP has a huge impact on millions of lives. It needs compassionate and empathetic leadership.
“Unfortunately, Ms McVey’s record when last a minister in the Department falls far short of this.
“In her time as minister for disabled people then employment, Esther McVey was a key architect of the most draconian and incompetent social security reforms this country has ever seen.”
“She announced a cut in support to more than 300,000 disabled people when Disability Living Allowance was replaced by PIP; stated that it was ‘right’ that people had to turn to foodbanks, and refused to undertake a second, full, independent inquiry into the effect of the Government’s inhumane approach to sanctions, especially against vulnerable people.
“At a time when her local Mid Cheshire foodbank has seen a 30 per cent increase on food parcels on the previous year, and to restore any trust in our social security system, Esther McVey must now pause the botched rollout of Universal Credit and fix its many problems.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disable People Against Cuts (DPAC), accused the minister of “stripping disabled people of their rights”.
“As minister for disabled people Esther was responsible for implementing policies and practices, including the closure if the Independent Living Fund, which stripped disabled people of their rights and seemed to take cruel delight in heaping further atrocities upon us,” she said, before adding: “She is unfit to be an MP let alone a minister of state.”
Dan Carden, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, said the appointment of Esther McVey to the DWP would put “fear in the hearts of the vulnerable and disabled”, adding: “The last time McVey was at DWP she was rightly ejected from parliament by the voters of Wirral West, not least for her callous attitude to claimants.”
Stephen Doughty, Welsh Labour and Cooperative MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, meanwhile said it was an “extraordinary decision” to make Ms McVey DWP Secretary of State, adding: “[She] was heartless and ideological DWP Minister in past so does not bode well. Hugely worrying decision for vulnerable in this country.”
Sue Bott from Disability Rights UK told The Independent: “The new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has a very full in-tray when it comes to disabled people. We hope she’ll work with us to come up with practical responses to some of the critical issues around disabled people’s ability to live as full and equal citizens in the UK.
“High on the list are the assessment process for disability benefits such as Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment; these assessments were a growing problem during her earlier tenure as minister for disabled people, and that remains the case.
“The injustices around the bedroom tax and the burgeoning problems with universal credit are also things that disabled people are worried about.
“We want to see concrete proposals to support disabled people coming out of the previously announced industrial strategy, and the health and work discussion paper – that is the only way we might start making progress on the stated aim to get more disabled people into paid work.
“If the new Secretary of State really wants to make a difference to disabled people’s lives, she’ll have to do more than promote the ‘Disability Confident’ initiative and encourage employers to be more disability-friendly.
“Actions, not words, need to be the order of the day.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “During the Secretary of State’s time as employment minister, the number of people in work increased by over 760,000, including over 400,000 women and 160,000 young people and the number of people out of work fell.
"The Secretary of State is looking forward to continuing her good work in this area, and driving forward the Government’s agenda of progressive welfare reforms by supporting people into work and providing care for those who need it.”
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