Saturday, 18 June 2011

Philip Davies And The Disabled

I'm going to do something that I don't often do on this blog and that is to agree with a Tory MP (mostly). Conservative MP Philip Davies has caused uproar among charities, the press and the usual suspects over his reported comments that the disabled are second class citizens and that they should be paid lower than the minimum wage and be exploited.

Aside from the fact that most of the 'outrage' is deeply patronising - Mrs Boiling Frog who's wheelchair bound has a voice (a very loud one at times) and doesn't need others to be offended on her behalf - reading through Hansard reveals that Mr Davies never actually said any of things reported. In a debate about the downsides of the minimum wage, Mr Davies said this:
I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job. The others are unemployed, but why is that? I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate
So Mr Davies visits a charity in his constituency and then stands up in Parliament to put forward concerns of some of his constituents who happen to be disabled. Isn't that what he's supposed to do? He then argues:
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? Whether that is right or wrong and whether my hon. Friend would or would not do that, that is to me the real world in which we operate. The people who are penalised are those with disabilities who are desperate to make a contribution to society and who want to get on the employment ladder, but find time and again that the door is closed in their face. If they could prove themselves earlier and reassure the employer who took them on that they would not cause a problem in the way the employer might fear—I am sure that there are a lot of myths out there and that many of these people would be just as productive as those without a disability—they might well move up the pay rates much more quickly. At the moment, they are not getting any opportunities at all.
And he's right. Whether it is unfair or not, it is impossible to deny that employment discrimination exists and the minimum wage laws make this discrimination even worse. And, as Davies argues, the problem is not exclusive to the disabled but other groups of people, such as young people, who are disproportionately excluded from employment by minimum wage laws.

Ironically those who dismiss the arguments against the minimum wage laws are doing the greatest disservice to the those who suffer the most. It's quite clear that Davies, by his comments, is trying to help get the most vulnerable back to work by trying to remove the barrier that condemns them to rely on the state for a lot less,

However, despite the compelling case for some flexibility in the minimum wage, to help give opportunities for some sections of society to get work, the toxic combination of 'Tory, disabled and minimum wage' has lead to emotional criticism, including by both sides of the house. Funnily enough, MPs don't have the same problem when it comes to breaking minimum wage laws and exploiting young workers for themselves.

Ludicrously Mr Davies has been warned that he can no longer represent his constituents in Parliament:
The MP was warned that he would be questioned over the remarks by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
If such people are disgusted and outraged by Davies' measured arguments, perhaps they should accompany Mrs Boiling Frog on a Saturday around any major city or town in this country then they would really see and hear some truly offensive stuff.


  1. There should be no minimum wage. It's just a socialist construct.

  2. For many years, I travelled the country visiting small to middling sized businesses often in country areas. Quite a few of them employed people who were obviously not 100% mentally or physically or both - in fairly menial but necessary tasks such as sweeping up.

    When the minimum wage was being introduced, I mentioned to my Labour MP that such people would almost certainly lose their jobs - but he would not accept that any flexibility was necessary.

    I now know a handicapped man who is 47 and still living with his parents. He comes to me for a day most weeks to help in the garden and can do quite a useful job but would require the sort of tolerant supervision which a small firm could provide to work full time.

    I very much doubt whether anyone would think of taking him on today both for reasons of cost and for fears about his being able to follow health & safety procedures etc.

    He goes to "college" two days a week where they try to teach "life skills" which are the sort of things he would have picked up in an informal employment arrangement years ago, actually earning a little money and not costing the taxpayer.

    Incidentally, Phillip Davies is a first class MP and man of principle who makes no secret of his wish for Britain to be out of the EU. His father is the elected Mayor of Doncaster who started by taking a much reduced salary for himself and cutting out a great deal of costly nonsense from the budget. I wish we had more like them both in public life.

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  4. @JiC Indeed.

    @Edward Spalton, thank you for your long and detailed comment - I agree with all of it. As a director of a small business myself one of the key issues is flexibility particularly at the time of an economic downturn.

    The more employment rules that are introduced the more decisions are made on a 'black 'n white' basis - your comment strikes a cord.

    There's seems to be an assumption all business employers are 'horrible' and that profit is evil. Obviously not true - I want to employ someone who I think is best for the job, and profit is necessary to pay my mortgage.

    Minimum wage, like generous maternity leave is detrimental to those that it is supposed to protect.