Esther McVey, MP for Tatton in Cheshire, has been appointed secretary of state for work and pensions, replacing David Gauke, who moves to the justice department.
Ms McVey’s appointment was announced last night (8 January) after Justine Greening turned down the role in a proposed move from education, in a government reshuffle that will also see health secretary Jeremy Hunt take charge of social care, another key issue affecting older people.
The 50-year-old Liverpool-born Ms McVey became parliamentary under-secretary at the department for work and pensions (DWP) in 2012, and later minister of state, but narrowly lost her seat to Labour in the 2015 general election.
However, she returned to Westminster in 2017 as the Tory candidate for Tatton in Cheshire, and became deputy chief whip in November.
Ms McVey will be the fifth person to take on the role of pension minister in less than three years.
According to Malcolm McLean, senior consultant with Barnett Waddingham, this near constant rotation of the position “is quite shocking and an absolute indictment of the importance of the role and its value to the government”.
Jon Greer, head of retirement policy at Old Mutual Wealth, shared this view.
He said: “It is disappointing that one of the most important jobs in government, which has a huge bearing on people’s financial wellbeing, has become a merry-go-round.
“The DWP has a huge budget, overseeing billions in state retirement support and other benefits, as well as implementing crucial private savings programmes like auto-enrolment.
“These are crucial issues for the UK’s long-term financial security and our personal prosperity.”
Mr Greer said, however, that Ms McVey “will have some understanding of the brief” from her time at the DWP.
But “setting retirement policy and ensuring we have a well-functioning state pension system is a long-term project which is put at risk if the minister responsible for the DWP changes for one year to the next,” he said.
Sir Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London and former pensions minister, argued that it’s “deeply disappointing” that Mr Gauke has been moved from his role.
He said: “Pensioners and workers saving for their retirement need someone in charge at the DWP who understands pensions and who has a good relationship with the Treasury.
“David Gauke ticked both of those boxes and it is very regrettable that he was given just seven months in the role. Once again we have a revolving door of pensions ministers which will deprive us of the stability which such a long-term area requires.”
On the other hand, the announcement of the inclusion of social care in Mr. Hunt’s department for health brief was a welcome news for the industry.
Sir Steve said: “Including social care in the name of the department for health is a welcome, if belated, recognition of the vital importance of this policy area.
“Just two years ago, the last government downgraded the status of the care services minister, so this is a welcome u-turn. But the health secretary already has his hands more than full dealing with immediate and long-term NHS pressures.