Lord Freud has apologised for suggesting that disabled people were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage. He said:
‘I would like to offer a full and unreserved apology. I was foolish to accept the premise of the question. To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else.
I care passionately about disabled people. I am proud to have played a full part in a government that is fully committed to helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment. That is why through Universal Credit – which I referred to in my response – we have increased overall spending on disabled households by £250m, offered the most generous work allowance ever, and increased the disability addition to £360 per month.
I am profoundly sorry for any offence I have caused to any disabled people.’
The question now is whether Labour, which said that ‘if Lord Freud holds these views, he should go’ will let the issue drop or continue pursuing it. These are tricky calls to make for an opposition party, which never wants to expend its small store of opportunities to call for a resignation. But can Lord Freud continue to work with charities whose co-operation is so important for the benefit reforms he oversees when he has offended so many of them?
The Lib Dems have hardly given their support to the contrite minister. A party spokesman said:
‘The views expressed by Lord Freud are completely unacceptable. The Liberal Democrats are proud to have raised the minimum wage repeatedly in Government and will resist any attempt to cut it for anybody, not least the disabled.’
On the question of whether or not he should leave his post:
‘Conservative ministerial appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister.’
UPDATE, 14.50: Labour isn’t letting this drop. The party is now accusing David Cameron of failing to act – and they clearly want Freud to resign:
‘This attempt at an apology is not the end of the matter. Lord Freud claims he merely accepted ‘the premise of the question’ but it was he who said some disabled people are ‘not worth the full wage’ and it was he who suggested paying people just £2 an hour. In fact he said he would go away to look at this issue, suggesting that this Government would consider it.
‘Someone holding these views shouldn’t be in government. Disability charities have already condemned Lord Freud’s comments in the strongest possible terms, senior Tories have called for Lord Freud to resign, a ministerial colleague has said these words will ‘haunt him’, yet David Cameron has so far failed to act.
‘If David Cameron continues to keep Lord Freud in his government we will have yet more proof of how he stands for just a privileged few at the top.’
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