Learning disability organisations have reacted angrily to Conservative MP Philip Davies’ claim that people with learning disabilities should offer to work for less than minimum wage in order to compete with non-disabled people in the job market.
Speaking in the Commons in a debate over the minimum wage and employment opportunities, backbencher Davies said that “vulnerable” jobseekers – including those with learning disabilities and mental health problems – were disadvantaged in their search for work because they had to compete with candidates without disabilities and could not offer to accept lower pay. “Given that 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 that 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. “My view is that for some people, the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.”
The minimum wage is currently £5.93 per hour for someone over the age of 21. For those aged between 18 and 20 it is £4.92 and is £3.64 for 16 and 17 year olds. His comments have drawn an angry response from learning disability organisations.
Molly Mattingly, assistant director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, said: “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 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.”