Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd’s supporters said it was ‘disappointing’ Labour chose to ‘attack’ her locally following her appointment as Work and Pensions Secretary.
Ms Rudd, who resigned as Home Secretary in the wake of the Windrush scandal in April, was given the new role on Friday (November 16) after Esther McVey’s resignation last week.
In an open letter following Ms Rudd’s appointment, Labour parliamentary candidate Peter Chowney urged the Hastings and Rye MP to ‘sort out the mess’ of Universal Credit which he said has ‘disadvantaged many of her constituents’.
Mr Chowney said: “She has the opportunity to show the people of Hastings and Rye that she really cares about all her constituents.
“If she fails to do that, local people will remember the cruelty shown to them by Conservative austerity policies. And we’ll be making it very clear who’s to blame for those failings at the next general election.”
In her first statement after returning to the Cabinet, Ms Rudd said it was an honour to serve as Work and Pensions Secretary but the people of Hastings and Rye would be her first priority.
Echoing these comments, her team issued a statement saying: “Amber has always put her constituents of Hastings and Rye first. She has held several different ministerial posts, and each time Labour try to manufacture a local disadvantage from her work.
“In fact, following two years of her serving as Home Secretary, nearly £1 million of funding was awarded to Sussex Police as part of the Early Intervention Youth Fund, something she set up when she was still in office.
“Now she is Secretary of State for DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) it is inevitable but disappointing that the Labour Party choose to attack her locally, where her record of delivery is strong on national issues.”
A Labour spokesman said Ms Rudd’s appointment was good for her ministerial career ‘but it won’t make life better for the people of Hastings and Rye’.
The spokesman referenced Ms Rudd’s comments to the Financial Times in 2013 when she was quoted as saying ‘you get people who are on benefits, who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job, they’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink’.
The spokesman added: “We all remember her dismissive insult about people living in Hastings so they can be on benefits by the seaside, even though it’s well known that most people on benefits are in work, and most people who receive unemployment benefits do so to get by between jobs. She doesn’t deserve the honour of representing this constituency.”
In response, Ms Rudd’s team said this quote was ‘used out of context’.
Ms Rudd said: “I know that the Department for Work and Pensions is a force for good which helps people in need and helps people get out of poverty and into work. This is what we want for our families, our friends, our neighbours, and what I want for Hastings and Rye.
“It is good that employment has risen to record levels of 75 per cent as stated just recently.
“But I know there are problems with Universal Credit despite its good intentions. I’ve seen them for myself by meeting and speaking with local residents. I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do so much good work. I know it can be better.
“I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with Treasury. We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system.”
Hastings and Rye constituents were asked by the Hastings Observer what they made of Ms Rudd’s return to the Cabinet.
In response, 339 out of the 388 people (87 per cent) who responded to the poll said they were ‘unhappy’ with her appointment, while a total of 49 people (13 per cent) said they were ‘happy’.
To vote in the poll, click here.