Questions to be asked over meaning behind Lord Freud disabled workers comment

Lord Freud. Credit: PA Wire

Ed Miliband had what seemed, on the face of it, to be a very good ambush for David Cameron at PMQs today.

He drew attention to comments made by the Welfare Minister Lord Freud on disabled people in work. 'There is a group,' he told a fringe meeting, 'who are not worth the full wage.'

The phrasing seems extremely offensive, to say the least. A scandal, then, which should certainly lead to Lord Freud's resignation.

Political Editor Tom Bradby reports on Lord Freud's comments

Except that it is kind of complicated...

It is clear from the full transcript that the Conservative Councillor who asked the question was talking about a rather agonising issue, which is that small group of people with mental health issues who want to work but who cannot find people willing to pay them the full minimum wage to do a job.

It was in fact a long conversation about how the Universal Credit is working, but the full exchange in question goes like this:

FREUD: 'Now, 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, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour and it's working can we actually...

COUNCILLOR: 'They particularly want to work because it does add so much to their lives...'

FREUD: 'Yes.'

COUNCILLOR: '...being able to do something. And actually being employed in a job actually gives them so much self-esteem, but nobody is willing to pay the Minimum Wage. And then we're supporting them massively financially, but we also want them to work, for their own self-esteem and everything else.'

Ed Miliband has called for Lord Freud to resign. Credit: PA Wire

So I expect what you think about this may depend on whether you are a political activist or not. If you hate the Tories, this will be proof that they are cold and heartless (I don't know Lord Freud, so have absolutely no concept of what kind of man he is).

But those who are not activists may be more inclined to see this is a rather ill-phrased attempt to get to grips with a genuinely difficult issue. The problem is clearly that some people with mental health issues desperately want to work but cannot find people willing to pay them to do a job.

Thus Lord Freud appears to be saying they are not 'worth' it as far as the market place is concerned, which might be harsh but also possibly, in brutalmarket terms, true. What do you do about that?

Well, it is clearly not an easy issue to solve and the language was indisputably ill-judged but I suspect it deserves better than being traded as a political football like this.

It is the kind of thing that happens all the time here - on both sides - and I fear it is what is turning so many ordinary people off Westminster party politics.

It is a game, played by a bunch of professional politicians cheered on loudly by their dwindling band of supporters and it means nothing to increasingly large swathes of the populace.

The danger is that this becomes a place where no one is willing to talk about real issues in the way they are discussed in pubs and living rooms across the land for fear of ending up at the centre of a storm like this.

Read more: Lord Freud issues 'full and unreserved apology'