In Brief

Esther McVey ‘misled’ MPs over universal credit

Work and Pensions secretary makes partial apology but also disputes some of the watchdog’s findings

The Work and Pensions Secretary is facing calls to resign after it was revealed she made inaccurate claims in Parliament regarding the roll-out of Universal Credit.

Esther McVey apologised yesterday in the House of Common for “inadvertently” misleading MPs when she had falsely claimed the National Audit Office, the government-spending watchdog, had asked for an accelerated roll-out of the government’s flagship welfare programme.

Her comments drew a stinging rebuke from the NAO's auditor general, Sir Aymas Morse, who said that McVey’s claim that the NAO was concerned that Universal Credit was rolling out too slowly was “not correct”. He also took issue with McVey's assurance that universal credit was working, describing the claim as “not proven”.

The Daily Mirror says the letter is “the first of its kind”, while Sky News says it is “a highly unusual move that has sparked calls in some quarters for Ms McVey to resign”.

Speaking from the despatch box to “correct the record”, McVey told MPs: “While speaking in Parliament in answer to questions on the NAO report into Universal Credit, I mistakenly said that the NAO had asked for the rollout of Universal Credit to continue at a faster rate and to be speeded up.

”In fact, the NAO did not say that and I want to apologise.”

Yet her apology failed to molify Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat welfare spokesman, calling her “unfit for office” and saying she should be replaced by someone “who has the humility to recognise that without significant changes, a national roll-out of universal credit will cause considerable, unnecessary hardship, to some of the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens across the UK”.

The Mirror reports that Theresa May “ducked questions” over whether McVey would resign but a spokesman for the PM later told The Independent that McVey still had May’s full confidence.

In a damning assessment of the government’s plan to consolidate welfare benefits such as tax credits, unemployment and housing benefit into one monthly payment, the NAO said universal credit was “not value for money now, and its future value for money is unproved”.

The report, published last month, highlighted the problems caused for claimants by delays in receiving payments under universal credit with opponents saying its chaotic implementation has left people in rent arrears and having to rely on food banks.

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