Labour’s bid to force the Government to dock the pay of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has been voted down by MPs.
The motion to “sanction” Ms McVey, by freezing her pay for four weeks after she misled MPs over the Government’s flagship welfare reforms, was defeated by 305 votes to 268.
Amid hostile scenes in the chamber, Ms McVey was urged to halt the rollout of the benefit, as Labour sought to “sanction” the Cabinet minister for her handling of Universal Credit, which has included a public row with Whitehall’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO).
Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, opening an opposition day debate, told MPs: “Her approach was shockingly complacent – as if oblivious to the hardship so many people are suffering.
“The Secretary of State repeatedly claims her department is testing and learning, but this testing and learning is using people as guinea pigs – this is unacceptable. Where is the dignity?”
She called on Ms McVey to halt UC and put forward a “credible plan to fix its many failings before many more people suffer”.
The Cabinet minister defended the system, and asked Labour to apologise for comments previously made by shadow chancellor John McDonnell who recounted a comment he heard at a public meeting in which someone said she should be “lynched”.
Ms McVey also called on the opposition to say sorry for tax credits and figures on the number of children in poverty.
“It’s not that we can’t all make mistakes, we’ve all made mistakes on various scales of mistakes, but the difference I see, the only mistake I ever made in this House to the opposite benches, was to absolutely just apologise,” she told the Commons.
Labour MP Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) later raised the case of a constituent who was “sleeping in a tent in a bin chamber” as he did “not have what it takes to get on to this difficult benefit”.
Ms McVey, who was dogged by jeers and shouts of “rubbish” and “nonsense” from Labour backbenchers as she responded, said: “What we do with people who’ve fallen on hard times is to reach out to them and support them, and if that person is not getting the support I would ask her – work with me.”
Later in the debate the SNP’s work and pensions spokesman Neil Gray condemned the “deplorable conduct” of Ms McVey and called on her to “consider her position”.
Ms McVey later appealed to MPs to work with her on UC after acknowledging there had been a “ding-dong” in the chamber.
She said: “I want to say with Universal Credit, let me put it on the record now, let’s work cross-party to get it right, let’s work with third sector organisations to get it right, let’s reach out and get it right, because it affects so many people.”