27 February 2008
Can you help challenge David Freud, the government special adviser who wants to create millionaires from your benefits?
Benefits and Work believes that David Freud has breached the Civil Service Code in relation to honesty and integrity. However, we are not an affected party and so cannot make a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. But you may be able to.
War of terror
The government today announced it is to follow city banker turned special adviser David Freud's recommendations on paying more money to the private sector to get sick and disabled claimants back into work.
Freud is responsible for some of the recent claimant bashing statements which are part of what appears to be a war of terror being waged by the main political parties against the sick and disabled. In particular, Freud claimed that only one third of incapacity benefits claimants should actually be getting the benefit and that the level of fraud is much higher than the DWP claims. (See: Freud's views: ignorance, arrogance and astonishing avarice 05.02.08)
He is also in favour of individuals becoming millionaires via schemes to get claimants back into work.
The continued portrayal of the majority of sick and disabled claimants as people who can and should be in work is causing real terror and misery for people who know this is not the case and who fear for the future. We know this from the desperate phone calls and emails we receive here every day.
And it is only necessary to read the odious comments left on newspaper and TV websites after each government pronouncement to realise how much hatred of incapacity benefit claimants is being stirred up in the UK.
Code of conduct
The ombudsman's office say they will consider a complaint against Freud if the the action complained of took place when he was acting in his official capacity and if the complainant can show that they have suffered as a result of that action.
We believe that in his interview with the Telegraph Freud was acting in an official capacity and, by his inaccurate statements, has caused genuine fear and emotional distress to individual claimants. The ombudsman's office normally looks for financial loss, but they have accepted that emotional distress may be sufficient cause for an investigation. As we are not claimants, however, the ombudsman's office have made it clear they would not accept a complaint from us.
Below is the basis of our case against Freud. If you agree with it and you are an incapacity benefit claimant who has been distressed by the continued anti-claimant propaganda then please consider making a formal complaint.
Freud's interview with the Telegraph published on 2nd February contained the following passages:
But in his view, fewer than a third of those on incapacity benefit are really too ill to get a job. "When the whole rot started in the 1980s we had 700,000. I suspect that's much closer to the real figure than the one we've got now."
There are no studies or statistics whatsoever to support this claim.
"And it's ludicrous that the disability tests are done by people's own GPs - they've got a classic conflict of interest and they're frightened of legal action."
As every claimant knows, the personal capability assessment is carried out by Atos Healthcare doctors working for the DWP, never by the claimant's own GP.
"There are probably five to seven per cent of the people on IB today who are on the black economy. They're doing jobs and claiming too but they won't have a free lunch any more."
Again, there is no official support whatsoever for this claim. The DWP's research puts the figure for fraud at less than 1%.
Freud is a civil servant receiving hard earned taxpayer's cash for advising on welfare reform. The Model Contract for specialist advisers which Freud will have signed states that:
"You are required to conduct yourself in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers and the Civil Service Code, except for those aspects which relate to the impartiality of the Civil Service and of civil servants."
So, Freud is covered by two codes of conduct.
The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers states that:
"All contacts with the news media should be authorised by the appointing Minister and be conducted in accordance with the Guidance on Government Communications"
Freud's interview was about welfare reform and was authorised by James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. So Freud was unquestionably on official business when talking to the Telegraph.
The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers also says that "Specialist advisers should conduct themselves with integrity and honesty."
The Civil Service Code explains in more detail what integrity and honesty involve.
In relation to integrity, the Code says that "You must:
fulfil your duties and obligations responsibly;
always act in a way that is professional and deserves and retains the confidence of all those with whom you have dealings"
We would argue that by making absolutely unsubstantiated claims about how many people are illegally working whilst claiming incapacity benefits, Mr Freud was neither responsible nor professional.
His claims that two thirds of incapacity benefit claimants shouldn't be getting the benefit have been repeated throughout the media and by politicians, leading to a widespread belief that the majority of claimants are work shy scroungers rather than genuinely sick people. There is not a shred of evidence to support his utterly irresponsible guesstimate.
That fact that CPAG, amongst others, questioned his suitability for the role of special adviser as a result of these inaccurate statements shows that he has failed to retain the confidence of those with whom he has dealings.
So, we would argue, Freud has clearly failed the integrity test.
In relation to honesty, the Code says that "You must:
set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible."
Freud's utterly erroneous claim that GPs decide who gets incapacity benefit was widely believed by the press and politicians. The Conservatives even announced that they would insist on all claimants having an independent medical examination, clearly unaware that this service is already provided by Atos Healthcare.
Freud's statement was corrected by a number of commentators, including CPAG and Disability Alliance. Yet, to our knowledge, Freud has never admitted in the media that he was wrong or corrected his error.
So, we would also argue Freud has clearly failed the honesty test.
How to complain
The ombudsman won't consider complaints unless they have first been put to the agency involved. In this case the ombudsman's office have suggested that the initial complaint should be made to Lesley Strathie, the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus. We've published her contact details at the end of this article.
So please consider writing to Lesley Strathie and complaining about Freud. If you don't feel able to write a complaint in your own words then simply explain what effect the current campaign is having on your emotions or mental health and enclose a copy of this article.
If you are unhappy with the response from Lesley Strathie you can then forward the paperwork to your MP with a request that they pass it on to the parliamentary ombudsman.
If a complaint against Freud's honesty and integrity, as defined by the Civil Service Code, was upheld it would be very difficult for him to remain in post. It would also be very damaging to the Secretary of State who appointed him. It would discredit not only Freud and Purnell, but also their radical reform agenda built around making fortunes for the private sector.
On its own, it certainly won't be enough to stop the attacks on claimants. But it's a first step. And next month we'll be asking you to turn your fire on the disability charities who are colluding in the government's war of terror on the sick and disabled.
If you do complain, let us know.
© 2008 Steve Donnison
Download the Targeting Benefits Freud poster and email it to a friend:
Targeting Benefits Freud poster version 1
Targeting Benefits Freud poster version 2
Targeting Benefits Freud poster version 3
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© 2008 Steve Donnison