The National Audit Office have today published an open letter criticising Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey for “misleading” MPs with “incorrect” statements about Universal Credit.

The letter from head of the NAO Sir Amyas Morse rebuked the MP after she last month ignored the report by auditors last month which outlined the failures of Universal Credit, claiming to the Commons that the report was out of date.

In an extremely unusual step from the NAO, the open letter was published to “clarify the facts,” and address the MP’s seeming refusal to meet Sir Morse to discuss the issues highlighted in the report.

Sir Morse’s letter noted that there were three specific points McVey had mislead the Commons on:

  • When speaking in Parliament on 15 June, McVey claimed the NAO report did not take into account recent changes – a claim she repeated on Monday – when, in fact, Morse says the report was “fully agreed with senior officials in your department” and was “based on the most accurate and up-to-date information.”

 

  • On Monday, McVey claimed that the NAO wanted Universal Credit to be rolled out more quickly, which was incorrect. McVey claimed that the report “says that it needs to continue to go forward and it needs to continue at a faster rate,” when NAO’s report in fact states that “the department must ensure it is ready before it states to transfer people over from previous benefits.”

 

  • McVey also claimed that the NAO said Universal Credit was working, when the report states otherwise. Morse writes: “I’m also afraid that your statement in response to my report claiming universal credit is working has not been proven. The department has not measured how many universal credit claimants are having difficulties and hardship. What we do know from the department’s surveys is that although 83% of claimants responding said they were satisfied with the departments’ customer service, 40% of them said they were experiencing financial difficulties, and 25% said they couldn’t make an online claim.”

According to Sir Morse’s letter, McVey has wilfully mislead parliament, an action which is against ministerial code, and can result in removal from her post. MP Caroline Lucas has called for her firing, suggesting the absolute severity of her actions.

UPDATE: Esther McVey has partially apologised at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, but stands by her statement that the NAO’s report did not take recent changes into account. She has not tendered her apology to the Prime Minister, despite heavy pressure to do so.

 

Image: mrgarethm/Flickr

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