David Freud, or Baron Freud of Eastry, is the coalition’s welfare reform minister. He’s been instrumental in bringing in privatization of the welfare system, increasing conditions on those claiming benefits and advancing the rotten cause of workfare at every step. This is why Boycott Workfare paid him and Minister Mark Hoban a visit last week when they wanted to talk about how wonderful the new ‘universal credit’ system was going to be. It’s also why UK Uncut stopped by his house in April to give him their very own eviction message.
Freud has been at the forefront of the ideological attacks and demonization of unemployed people and those struggling to make ends meet. Last November, he complained that “people are able to have a lifestyle off benefits and actually off conditionality.” In May, he was criticized for refusing to comment on the suicide of Stephanie Bottrill, who cited the government’s bedroom tax as the reason why she could no longer cope.
He had no answers to what the effect of the tax would be on the 220,000 families who face the changes to housing benefit and dismissed the extra charges as “relatively small”. When asked how social housing tenants would make ends meet he suggested they “could go out to work”, enforcing the myth that those in social housing or claiming housing benefits are not in work already. He also repeated his advice that separated parents who don’t want to pay the tax shouldn’t keep a bedroom for their children to sleep in. Instead they should downsize and put their kids on a sofa bed.
Responding to the idea that his background might not allow him to understand what it’s like to claim benefits – he is a former investment banker, who lives in a four-bedroom town house in an affluent part of London, when he’s not at the eight-bedroom country mansion – he responded, “you don’t have to be the corpse to go to the funeral.”
He likes to reserve special judgement for lone parents, whom he insisted should have income support removed when their children were younger. That way they could be made to claim jobseeker’s allowance with more conditionality, much sooner.
Freud was also a key adviser to the previous Labour government on the introduction and extension of workfare, before he joined the Tories and was made a Baron. His advisory report on workfare in 2007 recommended contracting out the ‘management’ of claimants to private companies on a massive scale. At the time, he noted that:
‘there is no conclusive evidence that the private sector outperforms the public sector on current programmes’. (p6)
What he was sure about was that:
‘this will be an annual multi-billion market. Such scale would attract commitment from a wide range of private service providers and voluntary groups.’ (p8)
So, it might not work, but it’s sure to make a lot of money for private companies?
Funnily enough, both predictions have borne out in reality. Companies like A4e, whose chairman Emma Harrison paid herself an £8.6 million dividend, got lucrative contracts to deliver the Work Programme. That’s the Work Programme that only managed to get 3.6% of people into work in its first 14 months, below what official estimates expected if the programme had never existed anyway. Demeaning conditions and sanctioning have been extended and forced labour is still being used widely, despite the evidence it’s not helping but harming unemployed people.
Freud has not only earned his place in the Pantheon of workfare exploiters, he helped design the money-spinning market in unemployed people. Both in his policy advice and in his slurs on those claiming benefits he should be remembered as one of workfare’s chief architects and ideologues.
People in Manchester plan to pay him a visit on 27th June.