I expect the headline above would be dismissed by Tory MP Philip Davies as yet more “leftwing hysteria” but it precisely reflects something he has seriously suggested:

“The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society. My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.

Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that 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, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

I realise this is just the sort of ruthlessly capitalist approach we should expect from the Tories but wrapping it up in an apparently supportive gesture towards those deemed “most vulnerable in society” is disingenuous and manipulative. As ever, the Tories are doing their usual work of putting the needs of corporations over those of the human beings they use. It will certainly be a great time for more unscrupulous and exploitative businesses if powerful people like Davies can convince those with less power to offer budget labour and serve as second class cogs in the machine.

Photo of a pile of bills and coins adding up to an amount below the minimum hourly wage rate for workers aged 21 and over by Drown, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

Kathryn Hyde // Posted 17 June 2011 at 10:03 pm

What part of MINIMUM WAGE is he not getting?

Troika21 // Posted 17 June 2011 at 11:24 pm

Philip Davies is entirely right. His comments were made in the context of describing certian groups who typically find it hard to find work. Many of those people just want a chance to prove themselves to potential employers, but because of their situation, may lack the skills that allow them to stand out.

From his comments he is talking about getting on the employment ladder in the first place, rather than established employees who have a track record to show new potential employers what they can accomplish.

Speaking as someone who went down the route that Mr Davies proposes, I can endorse the view that some of us are willing to work for less in order to demonstrate that we are employable. Mental health issues took away seven years of my life, as you can imagine this pretty much erased my skill base, so I did some volunteer work to build them back up again, and then got an apprenticeship – which has a minimum wage of £2.50.

In other words: I worked for free, then took a job that does not have to pay the min. wage (that being said, my employer does, almost). This is exactly the route that Mr Davies outlines, I support it, it got me a job.

More generally, if you’re arguing for higher-than-market rates of pay (minimum wage), then you are in effect, arguing for higher unemployment. Employers are able to pick the candidates they believe will be of most use to them, and if that staff member can only work part-time or in certain parts of the office or whatever, then they aren’t going to want to train them up.

Holly Combe // Posted 18 June 2011 at 11:23 am

@Troika21. From the clip I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem that volunteering and apprenticeships are the sole route being proposed here. The problem lies in Davies possibly suggesting that further exceptions should be made so that more people are driven to offer labour for less. (We have already seen some businesses taking advantage of people in this way if they think they can get away with it.) I see what you’re saying in relation to people wanting to be given a chance to work and being willing to do whatever it takes to show what they can do but it seems to me that Davies is just using this dilemma as an excuse for corporations to be able to exploit people more freely. You say “arguing for higher-than-market rates of pay” is “in effect, arguing for higher unemployment.” Surely arguing for more exceptions to the rule is, in effect, arguing for a gradual erosion of the minimum wage that will ultimately drive down wages overall?

I also think unemployment would be preferable to companies being able to get away with sub-standard treatment and that there needs to be a clear expectation for business to be socially responsible. (I appreciate this means there will always be complicated grey areas where very small businesses arguably have more in common with the individuals they employ. However, there is obviously a point where a business becomes a machine that more clearly needs to be regulated because of the corrupting nature of the power it wields over the individuals it employs.) I don’t think we should be complacent about Tory attempts to chip away at civil liberties in favour of the liberties of business.

Holly Combe // Posted 18 June 2011 at 11:55 am

I would recommend people go over to Pippa’s blog to see an excellent explanation of why what Davies is proposing is outrageous.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 18 June 2011 at 1:52 pm

If we accept male MP Philip Davies’s recommendation that disabled women and men should seek to work for less money than able bodied men and women then what is to prevent employers from systemically exploiting all employees. That is why we have the misery pittance called a national minimum wage and even that was strongly contested as muzzling the so-called ‘free market’ and curtailing new business enterprises.

It is common for tories to scapegoat disadvantaged women and men because this ensures the focus is not placed where it belongs – with employers who systemically discriminate against individuals because these individuals are not able-bodied, white and male.

We are from a society wherein everyone is accorded equal opportunities and rights, instead we have a rigidly hierarchal male supremacist society and one wherein those most socially disadvantaged are scapegoated and told they must do more. This ensures the focus is always diverted from those individuals/institutions who continue to fiercely retain their power and social status.

Just because one person was able to find a job does not mean it is acceptable for businesses to exploit disadvantaged individuals. If that is acceptable then what is to prevent businesses from employing women and men for a pittance? Nothing whatsoever because business practices supposedly supercede an individual’s right to receive a living wage for their labour and not be reduced to slave-labour.

Women have yet to be accorded their rights as regards equal pay and claiming disabled women and men should work for next to nothing is condoning slave labour.

I have a suggestion – I recommend Philip Davies donate his MP’s salary to a charity or charities which works with disabled people. After all Philip Davies’ primary role is to speak for his constituents not earn an income! I don’t think Davies would appreciate not receiving his very substantial salary, so why then does he think disabled women and men should work for nothing and with no guarantee they will even be offered a suitable post which pays more than a pittance.

Clara X // Posted 18 June 2011 at 6:03 pm

It’s not the Government, and it’s not the Tories, it’s seven backbench MPs. There were considerably more Conservative MPs who voted against Philip Davies’ comments than who voted for them. Please don’t use the views of this one individual to suggest that all Conservative MPs think the same.

The ayes and noes of those who supported the Second Reading is here:

Laura // Posted 19 June 2011 at 3:13 pm

No one should have to work for pittance, or for free, in order to prove themselves “worthy” of a job. If an individual is performing tasks that need to be completed, then they should be paid for their time. End of. Davies seems to be inferring that people with learning disabilities should accept less pay than everyone else because employers are taking pity on them by giving them a job. This is exactly the kind of condescending, discriminatory attitude that hinders people with learning disabilities’ access to employment in the first place.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 20 June 2011 at 11:53 pm

@Troika21 – the problem is that by asking people with disabilities to prove themselves more than people without disabilities is discriminatory (and there are plenty of non-disabled people out there without employment track records too- should minimum wage not apply to them either? If so, who does it apply to?). Whether or not you realise it, expecting you to do this *because you are/were disabled* is a form of exploitation that reinforces prejudices against those with disabilities.

I also think that it is wrong for under 21s not to receive minimum wage, especially in low-skill jobs where they are doing exactly the same thing as everyone else. Unless you can be actively shown to be training (that is not performing the full role of a full pay employee), then you should be on a full wage.

Laurel // Posted 21 June 2011 at 5:32 pm

I can understand if Troika feels how she does about getting disabled people onto the work ladder in the first place, but I think my biggest worry (apart from the discrimination of having to do this when disability benefits are being cut and people are being told in droves that they are fit to work) that if employers know that disabled people are willing to undercut the minimum wage, then why, esp if they see them as a liability, would they ever pay a disabled person OVER the minimum or required wage? They will start feeling as if they are OWED a discount for hiring them after a while if they are allowed to indulge in this attitude in the first place.

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