Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Welfare
6 September 2019updated 02 Sep 2021 5:38pm

In one letter, Esther McVey misleads us seven times over the DWP’s impact on minorities

The former Work and Pensions Secretary’s deeply disingenuous resignation letter ignores reality, in three boastful sentences.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary who resigned over the Brexit deal this morning, departed in true DWP style: disingenuously.

After her argument against Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement, the departing cabinet minister listed her “achievements” at the Department towards the end of her letter:

​“It has been a huge honour to serve as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, and I am immensely proud of the part I have played in the record levels of employment we have seen in all parts of the UK.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Your guide to the best writing across politics, ideas, books and culture - both in the New Statesman and from elsewhere - sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

“Youth unemployment has halved since 2010, and we now have record number of women and BAME in work and since 2013, 973,000 more disabled people in work.

Content from our partners
A better future starts at home
How to create an inclusive workplace and embrace neurodiversity
Universal Credit falls short of covering the bare essentials. That needs to change

“With employment over 3.3million more than in 2010 we have helped 1,000 more people into work each and every day since we took office.”

Let’s take a closer look at these boasts, shall we?

1. “Record levels of employment”

Well, employment did reach a record high this year. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since the Seventies. Sound good?

These figures disguise the increasingly precarious nature of work for British people. Last November, the number of people who did not have enough work, who were on temporary or zero-hours contracts, or who were classed as “self-employed” but actually only working for one employer still remained higher than before the 2008 crash.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of people aged 16-64 who are not working, not seeking work and not available to work has actually increased, while the number of people in work hasn’t changed since March-May this year.

2. “In all parts of the UK”

There is massive variation in employment across the country. Between July 2017 and June 2018, the employment rate was highest in the southeast and the southwest (78.3 per cent) and lowest in Northern Ireland (69.3 per cent). In the same period, the unemployment rate was highest in the northeast (5.4 per cent) and lowest in the southwest (3.2 per cent).

3. “Youth unemployment has halved since 2010”

In reality, young people face a worse world of work than past generations. According to TUC figures, just 9.3 per cent of young core workers – aged 21-30, working full- or part-time, earning low to average wages – are union members. This proportion falls to just 6 per cent among those in the private sector, which employs 80 per cent of the young workforce.

Casualisation, zero-hours contracts, the gig economy and sham self-employment disproportionately affects young workers, who are more likely than generations before them to suffer from wage stagnation, insecure jobs in low-paid sectors and fewer training opportunities. In the last 20 years, as the world of work has taken this gloomy turn, the gap between what younger and older workers earn has increased by more than half.

4. “We now have record number of women in work”

This ignores that women will shoulder 86 per cent of the burden of austerity – an agenda brought in by the Tories in 2010, and continued by successive governments – by 2020. House of Commons Library analysis estimates that the cuts will have cost women a total of £79bn since 2010, against £13bn for men.

Women suffer the most from benefit reforms. The Universal Credit system traps domestic abuse victims by only sending money to one account per household, and the average single parent loses £800 a year from the changes, with some losing more than £2,000, according to the single parent charity Gingerbread. This is an attack on women, of course, as 90 per cent of single parents are mothers. Single mothers are the social group with the highest poverty risk, at 50 per cent.

An uptick in employment goes nowhere near cancelling out the harm austerity causes women.

5. “We now have a record number of BAME in work”

The employment rate of black, Asian and minority ethnic people may have increased but again, they are disproportionately hit by austerity and low wages.

There is an ethnic minority pay and jobs gap, with ethnic minority workers in London’s public sector alone facing a pay gap of up to 37 per cent. People with African and Asian surnames have to send twice as many CVs as their equally qualified peers just to get an interview. According to the government’s own figures, 77 per cent of white people of working age were employed in 2017, compared with just 65 per cent of people from all other ethnic groups combined.

Low-paid workers will lose the most from cuts and changes to Universal Credit, with women and ethnic minorities hardest hit, according to analysis by the Women’s Budget Group and Runnymede Trust.

This analysis last year found black employed women are set to lose the most from these welfare reforms, at around £1,500 a year; they will lose 20 per cent of their net income. Asian families with three or more children will lose over £1,370 on average from the two-child benefit cap alone. Asian women not in employment stand to lose 32 per cent of their net individual income, and black women not in employment 28 per cent.

6. “Since 2013, 973,000 more disabled people in work”

This completely ignores how punishing benefit cuts have been for people with disabilities under the Conservatives. Personal Independence Payments (PIP), brought in to replace the Disability Living Allowance in 2013, are notorious for removing support for people who need it – with 63 per cent of PIP decisions overturned by appeals since 2013.

Nearly half a million disabled people and their families would be financially worse off under Universal Credit, disability charities warned back in 2012 when the reforms were being concocted. This was due to the removal of severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium – ruled unlawful at the High Court – as well as cuts to services for children with disabilities. The Children’s Society used the government’s own calculations six years ago to conclude that financial support could decrease for 100,000 children with disabilities under the new welfare system of Universal Credit.

Last year, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), said the UK Government has “totally neglected” people with disabilities, saying the government’s welfare cuts have created a “human catastrophe” for them in the UK.

7. “We have helped 1,000 more people into work each and every day since we took office”

As well as trying to force those who cannot work into employment through disability benefit cuts, the government’s new welfare system stops many from working. Universal Credit is dressed up in the language of “simplifying the system” and “making work pay”, but in reality, it disincentivises single parents and second earners to work.