Lord Freud resigns as welfare reform minister

LORD FREUD has resigned as minister for welfare reform and will retire, the Government has announced.

The 66-year-old former journalist and investment banker advised Tony Blair's government on reforming the benefits system before taking a Conservative peerage and joining the Coalition in May 2010. He is the only minister to have stayed in the same role ever since.

As a minister, he was the architect of Universal Credit, the Government's flagship benefit reform. It replaced six different benefits, including jobseeker's allowance, child tax credit and housing benefit, with a single monthly payment made directly to claimants.

The national rollout of Universal Credit was originally planned for October 2013, but it suffered from major implementation problems and the bulk of existing claimants will not complete the transition until 2016-17.

In 2013, the National Audit Office said the programme suffered from "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" - and that DWP had been forced to write off £34m on failed IT systems.

In December of that year, the department "reset" Universal Credit with a revised delivery plan that meant it counted as a new project and the rollout was "on track" for 2016.

However, in April 2014, the Public Accounts Committee said the rollout of Universal Credit was proceeding at a "snail's pace" and DWP's replacement "end-state solution" for IT would cost up to £32m by that November, with "no indication" of its long-term cost, when it would be ready or how it would work. In the meantime, the Government had spent £40m on Universal Credit software that was now useless.

The delays also meant councils would have to administer new claims for housing benefit for at least two years longer than previously thought, MPs said.

In October 2014, Lord Freud offered a "full an unreserved" apology after telling a fringe meeting of Conservatives that people with disabilities or mental health problems may not be "worth" the minimum wage.

He also caused controversy when he suggested the rise in the use of food banks was because people were taking advantage of free food, telling the Lords there is "by definition there is an almost infinite demand for a free good".

Announcing his retirement, Lord Freud said he was "incredibly proud" of Universal Credit.

"For too long, people have been trapped by a byzantine benefits system, leaving them powerless. This has always been my driving force - to give people back control over their own lives; to give support in times of need, but also to give a clear route out of the benefits system and into independence," he added.

Work and pensions secretary Damian Green said Lord Freud had made an "outstanding" contribution to the transformation of the welfare system.

"As the architect of Universal Credit, he combines vision with an impressive attention to detail. Moreover, he cares greatly about improving the lives of some of the poorest people in our country," he said.

"I want to thank him for everything has done over the years at DWP, and for all the help and support he has given to me and his ministerial colleagues. His will be a legacy of which he can be truly proud."

Lord Freud will officially retire at the end of December. A successor has not yet been named.