Labour clearly scent blood with Lord Freud’s comments about disabled people not being ‘worth’ the full minimum wage. They knew their first PMQs back would be difficult after their own poor conference, but when Freud made his comments, they must have been thrilled that they could bank something for this session. And it worked. You can listen to the recording here, and here is the full quote:
‘You make a really good point about the disabled. Now I had not thought through, and we have not got a system for, you know, kind of going below the minimum wage…
’There is a small…there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue.’
Afterwards, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he was ‘sure Lord Freud will be able to explain how he shares the Prime Minister’s view’. Labour sources then said ‘If Lord Freud holds these views, he should go.’
We are now waiting for Lord Freud to tell us what his views are. If he doesn’t apologise and explain why he said something he didn’t mean, it will be very difficult for him to remain in post. He was first appointed by Labour to lead an independent review of welfare reform, then became an adviser to James Purnell, before becoming a minister under the Tories. This is not the first instance of verbal clumsiness on his part: he told the House magazine that ‘you don’t have to be the corpse to go to a funeral’ when arguing that he did understand what it was like to live on benefits despite being personally wealthy. He also attracted criticism for suggesting that Universal Credit would be easy to claim because of Google Glass. And he also offended some disability campaigners at a fringe event at the same conference by appearing to confuse learning disabilities with mental health problems.
Will Cameron try to kill this row quickly by advising Freud to respond to this recording in the form of a letter with the word ‘resign’ in it? The Prime Minister was clearly furious in the Chamber that anyone was questioning his own commitment to disabled people, so he won’t want this to run on any longer than it needs to.