Labour tries to ‘sanction’ Esther McVey over Universal Credit

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Media captionEsther McVey: “In fact, the NAO did not say that.”

Labour is trying to “sanction” the welfare secretary by docking a month’s ministerial pay over her handling of the Universal Credit rollout.

The opposition pointed to Esther McVey’s row with the National Audit Office, saying welfare recipients had been sanctioned for “far less”.

Last week Ms McVey apologised for “inadvertently misleading” statements about Universal Credit.

She told MPs Labour should be apologising for its own record.

Sanctions are imposed against welfare claimants who are deemed not to have complied with agreed commitments.

Labour’s motion demanding an equivalent penalty to be applied to the minister is being debated by MPs.

It says people claiming Universal Credit are suffering financial problems but that the government had refused to pause its expansion across the country.

Opening the debate, Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Margaret Greenwood said Ms McVey had “undermined” a “damning” National Audit Office report about Universal Credit, which combines several working-age benefits into a single payment and is currently being rolled out nationwide.

Ms McVey defended the scheme, saying it had helped over 3.3 million people into work.

She demanded an apology from Labour for “misleading statements” about the impact of welfare reform, its record managing the welfare system in government and a remark by Labour’s John McDonnell during the 2015 general election campaign about “lynching” her.

Last week the secretary of state said she had “mistakenly” told MPs the National Audit Office felt the benefit was progressing too slowly and should be rolled out faster.

But she stood by her assertion that the NAO had not been able to examine the impact of recent changes to how claimants were receiving their payments as they “were still being felt and by definition, couldn’t have been fully taken into account by the report”.

MPs will vote at the end of the debate on whether to back Labour’s motion.

In May Labour tried a similar technique on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling but its bid to fine him the cost of a railway season ticket was outvoted.

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