Philip Davies: Disabled People in Work and the Minimum Wage
On Friday 17 June, a lot of debate was aroused following comments regarding disabled people in work and the minimum wage by Conservative Minister for Shipley Philip Davies during Christopher Chope's Private Members "Employment Opportunities Bill” that would have allowed individuals and employers to opt out of the minimum wage. This debate was widely discussed across the media, please find some media responses here: -
Philip Davies: Let disabled workers opt out of the minimum wage
The Telegraph, 17 June 2011
Downing Street has moved to protect the Prime Minister from a torrent of criticism after a senior Conservative suggested that people with disabilities should be paid less than the minimum wage.
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, claimed people with disabilities or mental health problems were at a disadvantage because they could not offer to work for less money.
Relaxing the law would help some disabled people to compete more effectively for jobs in "the real world” in which they are "by definition” less productive than workers without disabilities, he claimed.
The remarks stunned both Labour and Tory MPs and provoked a furious response from charities and equality campaigners, who condemned Mr Davies's "insulting” suggestion as "absolutely outrageous”.
During a Parliamentary debate, Mr Davies told MPs that the minimum wage of £5.93 per hour meant disabled people who wanted to work found the door being "closed in their face”.
"The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society,” he said. "My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.”
Mr Davies said that during a visit to the charity Mind, he spoke to people with mental health problems who viewed it as "inevitable” that someone without such difficulties would be offered a job ahead of them.
"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.”
A spokesman for the Conservatives insisted that Mr Davies' comments "do not reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect Government policy”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman added: "The Government would reject any suggestion for disabled people to be able to opt out of the national minimum wage.
"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.”
But the MP's remarks dismayed disability rights campaigners. Sophie Corlett, from the mental health charity, Mind, described Mr Davies's suggestion as "preposterous”.
"People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do,” she said.
Dame Anne Begg, who heads the Commons work and pensions committee, and uses a wheelchair herself, said Mr Davies's remarks were "outrageous and unacceptable” and showed the "warped world” some Tories inhabit.
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope, said Mr Davies had "got it seriously wrong”, adding: "We need to challenge employers' prejudices – not pander to them.”
The MP was also warned that he will be questioned over his remarks by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into disability-related harassment.
A commission spokesman said the comments showed "a total lack of understanding of the abilities and aspirations of Mr Davies' disabled constituents”.
"Is he arguing that Richard Branson, by definition, is less productive than people who don't have dyslexia? Or that Winston Churchill was unfit to run the country because of his depression?”
However, Mr Davies appeared unrepentant, blaming criticism of his comments on Twitter on "left-wing hysteria”. He later told BBC Radio 4 that disabled people should be allowed to "prove themselves” before moving up the payscale.
Commission response to Philip Davies MP comments
Equality and Human Rights Commission, 17 June 2011
In response to Mr Philip Davies comment that disabled people should be paid less than the minimum wage, a spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
"This is nonsense. It shows a total lack of understanding of the abilities and aspirations of Mr Davies' disabled constituents. Is he arguing that Richard Branson, by definition, is less productive than people who don't have dyslexia? Or that Winston Churchill was unfit to run the country because of his depression?
"Disabled people have the right to work and to be treated equally in the workplace. As long as people like Mr Davies only see the disability, not the ability, the barriers in society will remain for disabled people.
"Evidence from our inquiry into disability-related harassment suggests that the perpetrators view disabled people as worth less than other people. We will be writing to Mr Davies in due course to remind him of his responsibilities and will be inviting him to attend an evidence session for this inquiry."
Response to Philip Davies MP's comments on employment rights for people with learning disabilities
Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, 17 June 2011
Philip Davies MP (Conservative, Shipley) commented that jobseekers with learning disabilities should be allowed to offer to work for less than the minimum wage, because "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”.
Molly Mattingly, Assistant Director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has responded:
"Mr Davies' suggestion that the discrimination and lack of understanding faced by people with learning disabilities in the workplace means that they should work for less than is deemed acceptable for everyone else displays a breathtaking ignorance and is deeply offensive.
His subsequent claims on Twitter and elsewhere that he was merely repeating comments made by other people are no excuse – he is an elected member of parliament and has a responsibility to think about what he is saying before making such idiotic comments.
Many people with learning disabilities and mental health problems are perfectly capable of performing very ably in a wide range of professions. What the government should be doing is looking to reduce the stigma attached to learning disabilities and mental health problems, and helping people find and retain the jobs that match their skills – not further stigmatising them by forcing them to work for wages that are illegal for everyone else.
We are now looking to the Prime Minister and Mr Davies' other colleagues in the coalition to swiftly distance themselves from these potentially harmful comments.
Mr Davies' comments, and the fact that he appears to not understand the difference between mental health problems and learning disabilities, suggests that he lacks the appropriate understanding to be commenting on these issues. I'd advise him to read up it a bit more before opening his mouth in future”.
Disabled people have also given their own response: -
Members of Parliament should work for less than minimum wage
Jody McIntyre, Journalist & Political Activist, The Independent, 20 June 2011
Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, thinks disabled people should be ‘allowed' to work for less than the national minimum wage. Well thank you for the privilege Mr. Davies, because £5.93 is a bit steep for us "scroungers”.
"If an employer is looking at two candidates, one who has got disabilities and one who hasn't, and they have got to pay them both the same rate,” Davies said in the House of Commons, "I invite you to guess which one the employer is more likely to take on.”
I work as a self-employed journalist. Does Philip Davies, think I should be paid less than the next journalist, purely based on the fact that I have cerebral palsy? Clearly, I would not be the best person to stack shelves in a supermarket, and because of that I would not apply for such a role, but why would I be any less able to work at a supermarket check-out than any other person? A strong test of any progressive society is how it's most vulnerable people are valued for their worth, rather than pitied for their faults. Philip Davies clearly places little value on the role of people with learning difficulties in our society; instead of celebrating their diversity, he chooses to reinforce the discriminatory myth that people with learning difficulties are more of a risk to employers.
His rhetoric is spoken in the patronising tone of the "well-meaning observer”; "if those people consider it is being a hindrance to them” Davies continued, in reference to the minimum wage, "I don't see why we should be standing in their way.” Are we supposed to thank Philip Davies for his kindness? At last, someone brave enough to voice our views? No, Philip Davies, why don't you let disabled people speak for themselves? In fact, it is not this national standard that is a hindrance to disabled people, but the attitude that Davies conveys in his comments, that allows not only employers, but many sections of the public, to continue to look down on disabled people as lesser or inferior members of society.
Philip Davies, on the basic MP's salary of £65,738, is pontificating on the ‘hindrance' of paying disabled people the same minimum wage as any other person. The clue, which he seems to be missing, is in the title. But Davies is living in the same bubble as many of his colleagues in the Houses of Commons. He seems to suffer from the same superiority complex; "we are all in this together, apart from us!” Well, here is a suggestion, why don't you work for less than the minimum wage?
Only "if you want to”, of course.
Philip Davies MP's Comments on Minimum Wage for Disabled People
Same Difference Blog, 17 June 2011
I've been offline for most of today and have just read about Philip Davies MP's comments on the minimum wage for people with disabilities. I couldn't believe my eyes. In a Commons debate today on the national minimum wage, he said that "vulnerable” jobseekers – including disabled people – should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage.
He explained that the minimum wage may be a ‘hindrance' to some jobseekers, including people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, because it puts these groups of people at a disadvantage, since they have to compete with non disabled candidates for jobs and could not offer to accept lower pay.
He said he had talked to people with mental health problems during a visit to a surgery run by the charity Mind, and they had "accepted” that they would be passed over in favour of jobseekers without disabilities.
"Given some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable given 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,” he said.
He added that if disabled people wished to work for less than the minimum wage for a short period of time to help them get their first job, then he did not see why the Government should be standing in their way.
I'm absolutely shocked at this whole incident. This idea goes against every law I've ever heard of. If an MP, who is supposed to be helping to create laws to protect everyone in society from situations exactly like the one he suggested, doesn't see anything wrong with revealing such outdated views, then what should disabled people be expecting from the rest of society? Disabled people are not second-class citizens, or, as Mind spokesperson Sophie Corlett put it, ”cheap labour.” Why should we be exploited in the workplace?
As a disabled person who has worked, I have seen for myself that there are very few employers who are willing to accept disabled employees. However, I sincerely hope that this has very little to do with any reluctance to pay them a minimum wage as a result of disability. It has more to do with a reluctance to make ‘reasonable adjustments' to meet their needs in the workplace. This is often because such adjustments are expensive or inconvenient- they could include allowing regular leave for medical appointments or hospital stays.
Labour MP Dame Anne Begg summarises my views on the incident very well with her response: "To say that all disabled people should be excluded from the coverage of the minimum wage … would be discriminatory against disabled people. It would set the cause of equality for disabled people back sometime to the middle of the last century.”
I am relieved to read the response of a Conservative Party spokesman who said: "These comments do not reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect government policy”.
Disabled people are already being affected so much more than most by the Government's spending cuts and plans for welfare reform. The Welfare Reform Bill will affect us directly with its cuts to Disability Living Allowance and time-limiting of Employment Support Allowance. With all the publicity surrounding these plans, we already feel lazy and useless- this incident makes us feel even worse. I can't help wondering why we are going to be hit so hard by these plans- is it because the Government really does think we are worth less than the rest of society?
If the Conservative Party really wants to distance itself from these comments, the Prime Minister should call for Philip Davies to make a full and public apology to all disabled people as soon as possible.
There was also a response on http://www.labourlist.org/ on 20 June 2011 about the minimum wage in general in response to this debate: -
The minimum wage is not safe in Tory hands
http://www.labourlist.org/, 20 June 2011
Over twelve years ago a legally-binding minimum rate of pay was introduced in Britain for the first time.
Back in 1999 all adults had to be paid at least £3.60 an hour and workers under the age of 22 were entitled to get no less than £3 an hour. The change benefited about two million people - more than half of them in the service sector - and was a noble attempt to end the disgrace of what supporters of the move called the culture of ‘poverty pay'.
Introduced by Labour and supported by the Lib Dems the bill was opposed by the Conservatives who maintained that it would add to business costs and lead to job losses.
When he was the Tory PPC for Stafford (1997) the young David Cameron told a local paper (The Chronicle) that "Labour's plans for minimum wages, the Social Chapter and large increases in spending and taxes would send unemployment straight back up." When he became leader in 2005 he told The Observer's Andrew Rawnsley that "I think the minimum wage has been a success, yes. It turned out much better than many people expected, including the CBI." Another Cameron ‘flip flop' on policy? Not really.
Mr Cameron would never attempt scrap the minimum wage - he knows all too well that such a move would be impossible. However calling the minimum wage a ‘success' does not mean the Tories wouldn't make changes if they could get away with it.
Witness the recent statement by the Tory MP Philip Davies who has suggested that relaxing the present law would help some disabled people to compete more effectively for jobs in "the real world" in which they are "by definition" less productive than workers without disabilities. This needs to be added to the attempt a few years ago by a small but significant group of Tory MPs who gave their backing to Christopher Chope's 10 minute Rule Bill that would have allowed for individuals and, de facto, employers, to opt out of the minimum wage.
According to Mr Chope giving people the freedom to opt out of the minimum wage would help not only those who are out of work but those in the hard-pressed businesses like retail and hospitality. In other words if some people (probably economic migrants) are prepared to work for less then we should allow them to do so.
Such a move would clearly be open to abuse by unscrupulous employers and would no doubt result in companies cutting wages to below the national minimum. It would hardly be hardly be voluntary when the choice would be between taking a wage cut and getting the sack to be replaced by someone who will accept lower pay. An opt-out from the minimum wage would drive wages down and would probably worsen the current tension between foreign workers and British workers.
Taken together these utterances from the Tory right provide enough of an indication of the future direction of travel should the Tories ever be in a position to govern alone. The minimum wage wouldn't be scrapped by a future Tory only government. Instead it would be allowed to wither on the vine via a series of small, insignificant and probably below inflation rises.
Is this what David Cameron means by 'progressive' conservatism?
DPAC condemns Phillip Davies Comments on Disabled People and Minimum Wage
By Debbie Jolly, DPAC, 25 June 2011
DPAC condemns the outrageous comments made by Phillip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, Yorkshire. Davies announced that disabled people should be paid less than minimum wage. He claimed disabled people are considered less productive than non disabled people. Davies was condemned by Disability organisations, MPs and others for his thoughtless comments.
His comments come at a time of rising unemployment, a time when disabled people through the Work Capability Assessment are being moved from Incapacity Benefit to being declared ‘fit for work' by the maligned Atos group. Atos has already been subject to several investigations on its practices. Davies who has made previous comments suggesting disabled people are ‘scroungers' now claims that disabled people should be paid less than £5.93 per hour. From scroungers to slave labour!
For years disabled people have argued that employers' attitudes that perceive disabled people as less productive, regardless of qualification level or previous experience are issues that need tackling through education. The recent changes to Access to Work and the increased levels in the contributions from employers for adjustments have also had a knock-on effect on disabled people getting work. Disabled people are those most likely to be long-term unemployed NOT due to impairment but to ignorance of the very kind an elected MP feels no qualms about displaying. Even our enemy media outlet the Daily Mail condemns Davies.
Davies' comments set disabled peoples' opportunities back 20 years. It is the type of prejudice that we would expect from MPs given the raft of misunderstandings around disability that we have endured since the coalition came to power. The irony is that disabled people regardless of qualification are often paid less than their non-disabled colleagues. This is not because of productivity but because employers feel they can get away with it. In 2009 disabled people were paid a gross average of £11.08 compared to £12.30 for non disabled employees (Labour Force Survey 2009). DPAC suspects the differences are wider. These are the issues MPs should be discussing NOT reducing disabled workers wages further.
Davies fails to recognise that disabled people have the right to be paid a living wage, a fair wage, and a wage appropriate to skills and qualifications – and it seems all MPs fail to recognise the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities- a convention setting up disabled peoples' rights as equal to those of non-disabled people. No one should be considered a second class citizen because they happen to be disabled, nor should they be paid less for the same work.
Tell Davies what you think of his idea by signing the petition at the link below
MP's ‘prejudiced' minimum wage claim sparks anger
Disabled Go News Blog, 4 July 2011
A Conservative MP who suggested disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage has been dismissed by campaigners as "ill-informed” and "prejudiced”.
Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, told fellow MPs that minimum wage legislation prevented disabled people from climbing onto the "first rung of the employment ladder”.
Davies, who appeared confused about the difference between learning difficulties and mental health conditions, said it was "inevitable that the employer would take on the person who was going to be more productive and less of a risk”.
He added: "The point is that if an employer is considering two candidates, one who has disabilities and one who does not, and if they have to pay them both the same rate, which is the employer more likely to take on?”
He said that allowing disabled people to work for less than minimum wage would give them the chance to "prove themselves” and so possibly "move up the pay rates much more quickly”.
But the Conservative business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said disabled workers "do not have equal bargaining power when compared with their employer” and would face the risk of "exploitation” if they could work for below the minimum wage.
The MPs were debating a private members' bill proposed by another Conservative MP, Christopher Chope, which would allow people to choose to work for below the minimum wage. Chope's bill was denied a second reading by 23 votes to five.
Marije Davidson, RADAR's public affairs manager, accused Davies of making "ill-informed, prejudiced comments”.
She said the pay gap between disabled and non-disabled people was 20 per cent for men and 12 per cent for women, which was "a gross injustice”, and added: "Many disabled people can get into a job and have sustainable careers – if they have the support that they need and if discrimination is tackled.”
Richard Exell, a TUC senior policy officer, said that "excluding disabled people from the minimum wage would be a badge of second-class citizenship”.
Exell, who himself has a mental health condition, added: "It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than the minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said Davies' comments were "nonsense”, and added: "Evidence from our inquiry into disability-related harassment suggests that the perpetrators view disabled people as worth less than other people.
"We will be writing to Mr Davies in due course to remind him of his responsibilities and will be inviting him to attend an evidence session for this inquiry.”
News provided by John Pring