15 Oct 2014

How Lord Freud’s disability remarks landed him in deep water

Welfare Minister Lord Freud apologises after saying some disabled people are “not worth” the minimum wage. Why did he say this and what is the reaction of disabilities charities?

The Tory peer said he had been “foolish” in “accepting the premise” of a question put to him during a fringe event at the Conservative conference in September.

“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.”

Before his apology, Lord Freud’s comments had been disowned by David Cameron during prime minister’s questions in the Commons, with Labour leader Ed Miliband saying “the nasty party is back”.

Tory MPs have also criticised him and doubts have been raised about his future in the government.

He was recorded saying that some disabled people were “not worth the full wage” and he was going to consider if “there is something we can do” that would allow someone to work for £2 an hour if that is what they want to do. His remarks were first reported by politicshome.com.

‘Mentally damaged’

Lord Freud was responding to a comment from Conservative councillor David Scott, who talked about “mentally damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work”.

Mr Scott referred to a “young man who was keen to do gardening”, but the only way he was able to work was to set up a company for him and make him a director so he was not covered by minimum wage legislation.

He said that “actually being employed in a job actually gives them so much self-esteem, but nobody is willing to pay that minimum wage”.

It is not clear if Mr Scott was referring to people with learning disabilities or mental health issues. Channel 4 News has tried to contact him, but has yet to receive an answer.

‘Wrong solution’

A spokesperson for the learning disability charity Mencap told Channel 4 News: “There are not enough people with a learning disability currently in employment, and what the councillor is reported as saying is the wrong solution.

“People with a learning disability should be supported into work. Someone with a learning disability is able, with the right support, to do the same job as anyone else.”

Philip Connolly, from Disability Rights UK, told Channel 4 News: “I don’t know whether he’s talking about people with learning difficulties or a mental health condition.

“They’re quite different, but access to work (a government scheme that supports employers with disabled staff) can help people with a mental health condition because if they’re laid low with depression, it can provide a replacement worker on a short-term basis.

“With learning disabilities, under access to work, you can get a job coach to break down tasks into smaller elements.”

‘Shamefully mistreated’

Lord Freud was defended by Sam Bowman, from the Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank.

He said: “Lord Freud has been shamefully mistreated by Ed Miliband. His point was that the market value of some people’s wages is below the minimum wage.

“This is often true of the severely disabled and can have appalling consequences for their self-esteem and quality of life.”