Lord David Freud, the welfare cutting gun-for-hire of successive governments, is gracing us with his presence this Wednesday (26th January). The government minister is apparently visiting the council at the invitation of Cllr Maria Caulfield, who recently took it upon herself to "welcome" the Government's (Freud's) changes to housing benefit - changes that will leave 12,000 households in Brighton and Hove worse off. Many of the people affected are in work but will see cuts in their income as a result of cuts in benefits and tax credits.
He is visiting the housing benefit office just a couple of weeks after staff there were told of cuts to the service totalling £1.3 million over the next four years and the loss of 20 posts this year alone.
Freud first came to prominence in the dying days of the New Labour Government when the Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, got him to write a report about disability benefits. But now he's the Tories' man.
His work for Purnell was characterised by a quite amazing degree of ignorance about how the benefits he was meant to looking at actually work, perhaps to be expected from a merchant banker who had little previous contact with the benefits system. Among the errors which littered his report to Purnell was the claim that people's own GPs assessed them for Incapacity Benefit, when in fact it has long been the case that medical personnel from companies contracted by the DWP do this work.
He also claimed, with no foundation whatsoever, that "7% of IB claimants are on the 'black economy'" and promised that he would end their "free lunch". In fact, official measures of IB fraud put the level of fraud at 0.5% and falling.
The Child Poverty Action Group remarked
"Freud confesses to having known nothing about the benefits system, thinking it too complicated to understand. He clearly spent most of the 3 weeks writing and researching his welfare reform report playing around with financial models on the back of an envelope instead. The result is a proposal to hand over £167 billion of tax payers' money to private companies with incentives to keep as much as they can. But while the private companies get the cash, he wants more powers to cut benefits to families kept from work by disability."
Notwithstanding the fact that, had Freud's "report" been a school project it would have got a "Fail", he became part of New Labour's trusted inner circle on benefit reform before jumping ship after the election.
If any benefit claimants would like to provide Lord Freud with some education about the reality of life on benefits, he'll be arriving at Brighton Town Hall at 9.30am.