There are two aspects to comments made by Phil Davies, Conservative MP for Shipey during a recent Commons debate on employment rights and the minimum wage: the totality of what he said; and one aspect which has been picked-up upon.
The headline reporting, is of course, his suggestion that disabled – however that is defined – applicants should have the option of settling for less than the minimum wage if an employer were reluctant to take on an applicant with higher needs than an equally qualified and able ‘normal’ applicant. Davies’ reasoning came after a visit to MIND offices where he was told of many of their otherwise willing clients who had become institutionally unemployed, and suggested this course of action so they or other vulnerable applicants could demonstrate their suitability before advancing onto a full wage.
In the vocal condemnation – including from fellow Conservative MP, Edward Leigh during the debate, then from Downing Street; and MIND – two points seem to have been missed. Firstly, he was not refering to only applicants with physical and learning disabilities or mental health problems, but also potentially also the long-term unemployed and unskilled. The minimum wage of £5.93 is, well, minimal. Food, transport, utility bills are not going to cost less for applicants in those categories.
Secondly, going on what he said on BBC Newsnight about having “lost the argument” on the minimum wage, reading between the lines this suggests an attempt to erode the principle of the minimum wage.
Sixteen and 17 year old employees are, let us face it, almost certain to be still living at home, so their stipulated wage of £3.64 could be absorbed. Eighteen to 20 year olds will be less so, making the thought of their £4.92 more inquitous. Another immediate problem with Davies’ comments – also lost in the “ooo, nasty Tories don’t like disabled people” row – is the insentive to employers to discrmininate against applicants who would be entitled to the £5.93 rate rather than accomodate categories of vulnerable applicants.
Yet, for all his Alden Pyle approach to disability rights, Davies does appear to be concerned about bringing vulnerable applicants [back] into work. Just as he should explain how recipients of his scheme would have to pay for the same living expenses as full-rate employees – Government subsidies would, presumably, be anathema to his libertarianism – so should his critics and/or advocates of disability employment rights (not necessarily mutually inclusive) explain why initiatives such as apprenticeships (as low as £2.50 per hour) or internships (zero wages) which have been defended during the past 24 hours are somehow inherently virtuous.
Large-scale employers, such as my local Tesco which is noted for accomodating those with learning and physical disabilities (maybe mental health issues, but it’s rude to ask) are able to absorb costs and additional time required. Less so with small-scale employers, that is most of them. Whatever else Davies has done, he at least has presented an opportunity to discuss how the latter in particular can be assisted to in turn assist such vulnerable applicants.
As someone who has been unemployed – albeit not disabled – since long before the public sectors pulled-up their collective skirts and hollered like Tom Cat’s Mammy on seeing Jerry Mouse, I would prefer that to generic “ooo, nasty Tories”.