17 Jun 2011

Disabled people ‘should work for less’, says MP

A Conservative MP comes under fire for suggesting that people with mental health disabilities should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage so that they can compete for jobs.

Tory MP Philip Davies who said people with disabilities should work for less than the minimum wage in order to compete for jobs

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, made the comments in a Commons debate about plans to water down minimum wage legislation which were eventually thrown out.

Mr Davies said his views came from observations made to him during a visit to the charity Mind by people with mental health disabilities:”The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society.

“My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

‘Preposterous suggestion’

Mental health charity Mind told Channel 4 News it was “preposterous” to suggest that someone with a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.

“People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do,” a spokesperson said.

Why actually should a disabled person work for less than £5.93 an hour? Cons MP Edward Leigh

Mind said the comments Mr Davies was referring to appeared to have been made during a visit to Mind’s office in Bradford in 2007. The charity said that paying people with mental health problems less money than non-disabled people would not help them into work but would widen the poverty gap.

The comments were also criticised by an MP from Philip Davies’s own benches. Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough said: “Forget the fact that there’s a minimum wage for a moment. Why actually should a disabled person work for less than £5.93 an hour? It’s not a lot of money is it?”

Response is ‘left wing hysteria’

Mr Davies declined to give Channel 4 News a statement but did defend his comments on Twitter. “Left wing hysteria now dictates that you can’t even repeat what people with learning disabilities tell you if it questions their shibboleths,” he tweeted.

Elsewhere on the social network, Ian Birrell, a former speechwriter for David Cameron, called Mr Davies’s idea a “revolting suggestion”.

It was not the only comment during the debate to prompt discussion. Another Conservative MP, former minister Christopher Chope, tabled proposals which would have allowed adult employees to receive wages below the £5.93 hourly rate.

He said current laws prevented British workers from selling their labour “at a price of their own choosing”. But his proposals came under attack from MPs including Labour’s Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) who claimed Mr Chope’s bill revealed “just what a rotten, nasty party the Conservatives are”.

He said: “In our society there are people who have genuine social difficulties. They need our protection – they don’t need us to take away those minimum floors.”

Downing Street rejects comments

The Conservative Party distanced itself from the comments made by Mr Davies, who has a history of disagreeing with the party’s leadership.
A spokesman said: “These comments do not reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect Government policy.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The aim of the national minimum wage is to establish fairness in the workplace and one of its key principles is to protect the most vulnerable workers.

“For that reason alone the Government would reject any suggestion for disabled people to be able to opt out of the national minimum wage.”