Disabled workers must be paid equally

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Bill Scott discusses the suggestion that disabled people should be paid lower than the minimum wage

5th September 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The publicity around Frank Field’s resignation from the Parliamentary Labour Party amid claims of alleged anti-semitism brought to mind controversial comments Field made last year.

In an essay for the Learning and Work Institute thinktank he suggested that learning disabled people could be paid a lower minimum wage than is available to other, non-disabled, workers. In the essay he called for "more radical and imaginative solutions" to speed up the "glacially slow" efforts to get more disabled people into work. Field later said that he did not believe anyone with a disability should receive less than the National Living Wage. 

This isn't the first time that suggestions over how much disabled people should be paid have hit the headlines. Conservative MP Philip Davies and then minister for social security Lord Freud also called for an examination of what disabled people are paid, as have members of the public such as Rosa Monckton (a businesswoman and mother of a daughter with Down’s Syndrome) and Libby Purves (BBC journalist and presenter of Woman’s Hour). It has been suggested that learning disabled people should be paid a lower minimum wage because they are being "priced out of the jobs market".

Bill Scott

Bill Scott

Speaking for myself I totally disagree with such thinking. Firstly, there is absolutely no evidence that the minimum wage is pricing people out of work. People with learning disabilities are out of work because of a combination of discriminatory attitudes and them not having access to the correct sort of employment support.

For example, supported employment has been shown to be a successful approach to getting learning disabled people into work yet very little is spent on it by either local or national government. Yet, when done properly, it can result in up to ten times as many learning disabled people being in work and lower social care bills.

Secondly paying people less money is not a route out of poverty. Research shows that people who start off in volunteering or in sheltered employment get stuck on no or low wages and they hardly ever progress into better paid work. The same would be true of those who started on a reduced minimum wage. 

In addition, there is little to no evidence that employing learning disabled people increases employers’ costs. On the contrary the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concluded in 2004 that learning disabled employees generally stay in the job for longer than their non-disabled counterparts because “they have a strong commitment to work, as well as good punctuality and low absentee rates”.

It would also be wrong to conclude, without any supporting evidence, that learning disabled people would always be slower in carrying out tasks at work. In fact, that simply demonstrates the prejudice that exists towards them. All of these prejudices seem to stem from a fundamental belief that learning disabled people are not equal citizens, which is contrary to equalities and human rights law.

To quote learning disabled people’s organisation My Life, My Choice: “Even though Mr Field said that lower wages could be combined with higher benefits to ensure disabled workers did not receive any less in their pocket – we think that taking away disabled people’s rights is a dangerous thing to start doing”. I agree.