On Monday, Esther McVey reeled off a list of charities and their comments, which she treated as praise for the DWP’s plans for Universal Credit (UC):
Her comments were a litany of misrepresentation – and triggered a scramble by charities to distance themselves from her and her claims that made clear that McVey was not only being misleading, yet again, but so misleading that she had essentially gone ‘full Trump’.
Mind, one of the charities McVey claimed had said her department was listening to them and to claimants, was so keen to disavow her claims that it put out a six-tweet thread on Twitter to ‘set the record straight‘.
The thread began with video of her claims, then made clear that Mind had not changed its position from its July statement that it was ‘hugely concerned‘ about the ramifications for vulnerable people of the Tories’ UC plans:
But Mind was not the only charity that wanted to ‘set the record straight’.
Gingerbread, another of the organisations McVey name-checked, has also put out a substantial Twitter thread today, making clear that while any improvement for claimants is welcome, McVey presented a partial and misleading picture in her use of its comments – and that the charity still considers UC a serious threat to the single parents it represents:
McVey also listed Mencap among the charities who said the DWP was ‘listening’. But again, she omitted a large – and utterly damning – part of the charity’s comment. The full version reads:
The government has started to listen on the huge problems with Universal Credit, but has done little to address the massive loss of financial support faced by disabled people due to disability premiums being abolished.
McVey quoted the Trussell Trust about ‘listening’ – but also its words about ‘significant improvements that will make a real difference‘. Predictably, the rest of the comment was not included:
However, right now, more and more people across Britain are struggling to make ends meet, unable to afford food, and facing hunger as a result. The huge rise in foodbank use where Universal Credit has been rolled out is the opposite of what should be happening: our benefits system should be protecting people from needing a foodbank, not forcing people to use one.
By failing to ensure benefits cover essential living costs, the Government risks undermining the health, wellbeing and dignity of millions of people.
The Trussell Trust told the SKWAWKBOX it is preparing a specific statement on McVey’s comments for imminent release. While it is likely to resemble to responses put out by Mind and Gingerbread, it will be published separately on the SKWAWKBOX when it is released.
McVey also quoted the Resolution Foundation’s welcome for extra cash for some UC claimants – but again, she only quoted a small part of the picture. The charity told the SKWAWKBOX:
The £1,000 increase in Work Allowances will deliver a £630 boost to low-income families… However, the Foundation cautions that austerity is not over when it comes to social security. The cash freeze in working age benefits is set to continue next year, saving the Exchequer £1.5bn but costing a couple with children in the bottom half of the income distribution £200.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) did indeed say that the government’s increase to UC ‘work allowances’ is good news – although it will only help those claimants working and earning enough to benefit from it. But that was one small phrase from six paragraphs of the charity’s otherwise critical response.
CPAG did not wish to add to its published response when contacted by this blog, but that response itself could scarcely be more damaging to McVey’s attempt to claim that
The work allowance change will be welcomed by hard-up families but unless there is a further fundamental re-think of how universal credit works – and robust safeguards in place before it is scaled-up – people will continue to be pushed into debt and driven to food banks as part of their claim.
This should have been the Budget to bring families in from the cold by ending the four-year freeze on family benefits but the impact of that stealth cut will continue to be felt by just-managing families. Child benefit, a lifeline for many low-income families, will have lost 23% of its real value by 2020, compared with 2010, as a result of sub-inflationary uprating and the current freeze. That’s core money for struggling families in and out of work. If there is substance to the claim that austerity is ending, ending the freeze and allowing family benefits to rise again with rents and inflation must be a priority.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation could not be reached for comment, but its press release on the new UC plans was, like the others, anything but unalloyed approval, drawing attention to the incredible fourteen million people living in poverty – and warning the government that it needs to make serious changes before the UK becomes a country that works for all its inhabitants.
Esther McVey was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.
Nobody aware of Esther McVey’s complete disregard for truth when she claimed that official bodies were recommending the acceleration of the Tories’ UC roll-out, when they were in fact saying STOP!, will be remotely surprised that she has stooped to Trumpian levels of disinformation and reality-distortion this week.
But being predictably absurd does not make it any less appalling.
The reaction and comments of the charities she listed – every single one of them – make that abundantly clear.
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