27 August 2008
Our members’ attempts to get an official retraction and apology for the comments made by the Government’s special adviser David Freud are still continuing.
As you may recall, the wealthy investment banker’s recommendations for major changes to the benefits system seem to have struck an attractive chord with senior ministers.
But to justify his calls for a shake-up, Freud has effectively led the way in providing the scaremongering soundbites we have witnessed over recent months in a succession of ignorant, arrogant and misleading articles.
Back in February, we asked members to lodge their own complaints regarding Freud’s false claims and offensive comments regarding claimants and since then we all seem to have been stuck on a see-saw with various government departments and officials. We keep going back and forth and if it was not such a serious issue it would be laughable.
In May, a Government minister did break cover long enough to distance himself from the claims made by the DWP’s very special adviser who had fallen strangely silent himself after previously being a ubiquitous presence in almost any report on benefits.
Stephen Timms, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, said contents of Mr Freud’s recent press articles “were not prompted by research commissioned by the Government, and reflect his own views.”
But the letter goes on to say that Freud is still currently advising the department "on commercial and commissioning strategies and not with the design of the benefit system or its administration.”
Not willing to be fobbed off so contemptuously our members have continued to request a formal retraction and apology.
Now one of our members has received another response from a DWP official stating: “Mr Freud’s remarks did not reflect Government thinking on the issue of incapacity benefit claimants…It may be worth pointing out that special advisers are not required to restrict their comments to Government policy when speaking to members of the press unless they have been given a specific instruction to do so.
“On this occasion, I understand that Mr Freud's comments were given as his own personal opinion and there was no prior consultation with any Government official over their content. Nevertheless I would concede that this could have been made clearer at the time."
Good enough? We think not and neither does our member.
He has, therefore, written back: “You…state in your letter that you are ‘very sorry about the offence caused to you by Mr Freud's remarks to the press’. If that is so why is your department unwilling to correct the false statements made by him?
“The offence and harm, not only to myself, but also to a very large number of other disabled benefit claimants, did not just occur when these statements were made and shortly thereafter, they are still continuing.”
He rightly points out that the Disability Equality Duty requires the DWP to "eliminate harassment of disabled persons that is related to their disabilities” and “promote positive attitudes towards disabled persons".
Bearing this mind, he adds: “In failing to correct a statement by one of your special advisers…the DWP is in breach of that duty.
“I must therefore insist that the DWP take immediate steps to correct the false statement referred to and would advise that failure to do so may result in action against the Department.”
Sorry really does seem to be the hardest word for the DWP and David Freud.
But why he is deemed such a special case by the Government remains a mystery.