If there's money that needs savings, you can trust the coalition to claw it back from those least able to pay. It is a kind of pathology. They are like the anti-Robin Hood.
Iain Duncan Smith was ordered by No 10 to close down benefits for EU migrant workers in so far as it was possible under EU law. EU law, as it happens, tends to be rather vague on the subject, saying that to qualify as a 'worker' someone must be in employment which is considered to be 'genuine and effective'.
It's not a difficult definition to understand, really. To be a worker, someone needs to be working.
That is not enough for IDS. He wants benefits to be denied to anyone earning less than £150 per week over a three-month period.
The EU worker benefit system is entirely sound as it is. European migrant workers here are paying tax, so they deserve to benefit from the system as well. As a matter of fact, they contribute 34% more to the public purse than they take out. It's worth comparing that to British citizens, who contribute 11% less to the public purse than they take out.
The system is also open to British migrants (sorry – 'expats') elsewhere in Europe, a factor which is never mentioned in UK media coverage. More than 10,000 Britons are claiming unemployment benefit in Germany, receiving up to £23,318 a year from the German taxpayer. Over the entirety of the EU the figure is close to 40,000.
But if one did feel the need to restrict it - say because one was running scared of a bunch of mean-spirited, blazer-wearing Little Englanders - one would not pick IDS' method.
He has chosen a system which flies in the face of what we understand work to be. We expect it to be a situation where an employer has a genuine need for a post to be filled and does so. It is not to do with quite how many hours it takes for the job to be done. But because of the prevalence of low-paid work in the UK economy, IDS has acted to discriminate against those in insecure, unreliable employment
If you are one of the million workers in Britain earning the £6.31 minimum wage – or one of the two million people earning just 50p more than that – you'll have to work nearly three full days (24 hours) a week to hit the £150 benchmark.
This might be tolerable if it wasn't for the three months of income slips demanded by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). But with that requirement, it becomes deeply unfair and unjustifiable.
Any barman or waitress doing regular shifts at work who slips below the DWP level for a couple of weeks in a quarter-year period will suddenly become technically ineligible. They are at the mercy of their shift patterns.
People in the hospitality industry or acting as agency workers in retail or office admin are also likely to be affected. Such people are used to working hard for some periods of time - often earning well above the weekly DWP threshold – and then later going through periods where there is little to no work. Under IDS' plans, they will be barred from gaining worker status indefinitely, because they must prove they were above the level every single week.
Anyone falling under the limit will face further assessment of whether they are in the UK to undertake "genuine" work. Their fate will be at the mercy of DWP caseworkers. All rests, in truth, on the guidance handed down to them. Given the moral and intellectual standard IDS has presided over at the Department, we should think very little of that fact.
"We have taken action to make sure our economy delivers for people who want to work hard, play by the rules, and contribute to this country," IDS said today.
He couldn't be further from the truth.
He is taking away benefit support from people who pay tax.
They are the ones playing by the rules. He is the one introducing a lop-sided deal: paying into the system and getting nothing back but slander from a secretary of state.
He could have set an hourly, rather than an income, limit to three-month work periods. But of course this would have ensnared wealthier migrants taking non-exec roles which demand little time but pay well.
As ever the coalition always bends over backwards to avoid the fairer option and instead aims at those with the least means. As a reflex, it targets the vulnerable over the fortunate.