Commissioned in December 2006 by Tony Blair to review welfare funding, the unelected David Freud was to be ennobled by David Cameron in 2009 which permitted him to be appointed from the House of Lords as a junior Minister in the 2010 Coalition government.
The danger for all chronically ill and disabled people dependent upon welfare funding for financial survival was apparent in some of the first reported words by David Freud, in his capacity as the appointed adviser to the New Labour government.
A millionaire and former city banker with no political experience, Freud claimed in a press interview in February 2008 that he “couldn’t believe” that anyone had been awarded a disability benefit for life.
His total failure to conceive that many illnesses and disabilities are permanent, and disabled people can’t suddenly become able bodied at the demand of an unelected millionaire seemed to escape him.
Freud’s commissioned and influential 2007 report ‘Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work’ had a first draft written in only three weeks by the man who proclaimed that he knew “nothing about welfare”. Yet his hastily gathered recommendations were adopted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and were destined to become future welfare reform policies for the Cameron governments.
Known as the “Freud Report”, it generated a lot of attention, but few people knew that Freud’s incompetence was exposed by Professor Danny Dorling shortly after publication, as Freud had “got his numbers wrong” by misinterpreting his own references.
Subsequent government rhetoric by the Coalition and Conservative governments, predicting at least one million people leaving long-term sickness benefit and returning to work, would not happen as their predictions relied upon the flawed “Freud Report”, and disregarded subsequent expert academic opinion which identified the welfare reforms and austerity measures as being “a political choice, not a financial need”.
Freud’s 2008 report identified significant increased government costs by recommending the private sector to conduct new assessments for access to sickness and disability benefits. From 2008 the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was the assessment used by the DWP to resist funding the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was the new out-of-work disability benefit which had replaced Incapacity Benefit.
From June 2013 the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was introduced to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with both the WCA and the PIP assessments destined to be exposed by academic excellence as being fatally flawed, and detrimental to claimants with chronic ill health or permanent disabilities.
The reforms eventually forced all but the oldest claimants, who were originally awarded DLA for life for a permanent disability, to be reassessed and transferred to the new PIP that most applicants were refused due to a dramatic change in the descriptors used for access to the benefit.
So, the result of Freud’s hastily created recommendations meant that previously employed permanently disabled people in receipt of a Motability car, which was funded by their allocated DLA, had their cars removed and so lost their jobs as they are physically unable to access public transport.
Still more preventable harm was caused by the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which had provided vital additional financial support for profoundly disabled people to permit them to have independent lives in the community. On the recommendation of David Freud, the fund was closed in 2016 saving £320 million, as profoundly disabled people lost their independence and were forced back into care homes.
Regardless of very predictable dire human consequences, over time Freud’s recommendations were adopted by the DWP creating death, despair, starvation, and identified increases in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and a significant increase in the prescribing of anti-depressant drugs.
The Tory dominated national press refused to identify the human consequences of a savage reduction of welfare funding, and promoted relentless political rhetoric suggesting vast amounts of benefit fraud, with such claims easily demonstrated to be totally untrue.
However, the rhetoric successfully manipulated the British public to the extent where there was a 213% increase in prosecuted disability hate crimes during the Coalition government’s term of office. Police Chiefs were reporting disabled people being dragged out of wheelchairs and kicked to death in shop doorways, but these stories failed to be reported by the State sanctioned press and media.
The DWP’s own published figures identified administrative error costing twice as much as the identified miniscule 0.7% of welfare benefit fraud, but the truth was abandoned as reported Tory propaganda highlighted the “scroungers” and the “skivers”, with lots of bluster but few facts. It worked well.
Cash-strapped Brits decided sick and disabled people were the cause of tough times and sympathy, concern and compassion were disregarded to permit sick and disabled people to starve to death when their benefits were sanctioned when too ill to attend a meeting with the Jobcentre.
Freud’s recommendations included reducing the ESA long-term sickness benefit to the same income level as that of the unemployment Job Seekers Allowance, to prevent there being any financial “incentive” to remain on ESA. Thanks to the discredited but influential 2005 DWP commissioned research ‘The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits’ by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, Freud used the suggestions in that report and was instrumental in suggesting punitive welfare reductions and savage sanctions that guaranteed destitution or worse.
It remains difficult to comprehend how welfare costs could be drastically reduced when the ESA assessment using the WCA was offered to the private sector, at a cost to the public purse of £510 million per annum with appeal tribunals costing an additional £60 million per annum. That’s a lot of people to be removed from welfare funding before costs are recovered, when aided by the politics of fear.
Mo Stewart is an independent researcher and retired healthcare professional. Her acclaimed book ‘Cash Not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state’ was published in September 2016 by New Generation Publishing.