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.”