Esther McVey, the Work and pensions secretary, has issued an apology for “mistakenly” misleading the parliament after the head of the National Audit Office publicly took her to task for her claims regarding universal credit.
In an open letter, that was addressed to the Cabinet minister, Sir Amyas Morse accused the secretary of being a serial offender in making false statements various times, claiming that she knew at the time that they were wrong.
Morse said that he was “reluctantly” writing an open letter to McVey since he had not been able to secure a meeting with her when she made more misleading claims.
The NAO head points to three specific instances – that she informed MPs that the NAO report did not take account of the latest changes to universal credit when it had done, that the NAO said that the new welfare system should be released more quickly when it had not and that the NAO stated that the universal credit was working.
He noted, however, that the report had been “fully agreed” by senior officials within DWP.
Morse wrote: “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 per cent of claimants responding said they were satisfied with the departments’ customer service, 40 per cent of them said they were experiencing financial difficulties, and 25 per cent said they couldn’t make an online claim.”
After the letter was made public McVey informed the MPs that she was sorry for having “mistakenly” said that the NAO wanted to expedite the rollout. He added: “and I want to apologise to you and the House for inadvertently misleading you”.
The secretary, however, maintained that the report of the NAO was not able to take into account the effect of the other changes, which she said were “still being felt and therefore by definition could not be taken into account by the NAO report.”
McVey also emphasised that she had asked for an opportunity to “correct the record” last night – before the letter was published – adding that she hoped that her apology would be accepted.