Esther McVey becomes DWP minister: Four alarming statements she's made about people on benefits - The Independent

Former TV presenter has said use of food banks is 'right' and benefit sanctions 'teach' job seekers to look for work seriously.

Esther McVey's appointment as Work and Pensions Secretary has been met with a backlash from MPs and campaigners over previous comments she has made in the past about benefit claimants.

The former TV presenter once claimed that the use of food banks was "right". She also said that benefits sanctions "teach" job seekers to look for work seriously. 

Ms McVey, who has previously served as minister for disabled people and later served as employment minister, was handed her new role after it was turned down by former Education Secretary Justine Greening

The appointment of the Conservative MP for Tatton to her new role has been described as “hugely worrying” for vulnerable people in the UK, with campaigners and MPs saying her track record "does not bode well".

Here are four things Ms McVey has said which have prompted anger:

Food bank use is 'right'

During a 2013 House of Common debate, Ms McVey claimed it was “right” that people were using food banks.

“It is positive that people are reaching out to support other people - from church groups to community groups, to local supermarkets and other groups,” she said.

“In the UK it is right that more people are... going to food banks because as times are tough, we are all having to pay back this £1.5 trillion debt personally which spiralled under Labour, we are all trying to live within our means, change the gear and make sure that we pay back all our debt which happened under them.”

Benefit sanctions 'teach' job seekers to look for work

Comparing claimants to badly behaved school pupils, Ms McVey, in her role as employment minister, defended the sanctions system for people who fail to attend a meeting with an adviser in a 2013 meeting with the Work and Pensions Committee. 

“What does a teacher do in a school? A teacher would tell you off or give you lines or whatever it is, detentions, but at the same times they are wanting your best interests at heart,” she said.

“They are teaching you, they are educating you but at the same time they will also have the ability to sanction you.”

Introduction of controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) proved hugely controversial. 

Introducing the new benefit in April 2013, Ms McVey said: “Disability Living Allowance is an outdated benefit introduced over twenty years ago and needs reform to better reflect today’s understanding of disability.

“At the moment the vast majority of claimants get the benefit for life without any systematic reassessments and around 50 per cent of decisions are made on the basis of the claim form alone – without any additional corroborating medical evidence.

“The PIP will include a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews - something missing in the current system. This will ensure the billions we spend give more targeted support to those who need it most.”

But last March Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said PIP was the biggest issue people sought advice for through her organisation, with almost 400,000 queries in the year.  

An independent review published in the same month found that claimants had an "inherent distrust" of the system and 65 per cent of those who appealed against rejected claims saw the decision overturned by judges.

This, along with a lack of transparency in the assessment process, is damaging trust in PIP, the report said. 

Consistent voting against raising welfare benefit in line with prices

Parliamentary voting records show Ms McVey has:

  • Consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
  • Consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • Consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
  • Almost always voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed

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