Election 2019

General election 2019: Tory candidate in disability pay row

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Media captionSally-Ann Hart was appearing at a hustings in Hastings on Thursday

A Tory candidate has been filmed saying some people with learning difficulties "don't understand about money".

Sally-Ann Hart was defending sharing an article that said disabled people could be paid less than the minimum wage.

She told the audience at an election hustings for the Hastings and Rye seat on Thursday: "It's to do with the happiness they have about working."

Ms Hart later said her comments had been taken out of context but apologised for any offence caused.

She had posted "This is so right" in response to a story in The Spectator in 2017 titled "Why people with learning difficulties should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage".

The Facebook post has now been deleted.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Sally-Ann Hart gave her support for the article in 2017 but has since deleted the Facebook post

Speaking at the event at East Sussex College in Hastings, she defended her support for the article saying: "It was about people with learning difficulties, about them being given the opportunity to work, because it's to do with the happiness they have about working.

"Some people with learning difficulties, they don't understand about money.

"It's about having a therapeutic exemption and the article was in support of employing people with learning disabilities."

Her explanation was met with jeers from the audience.

Image caption Sally-Ann Hart later apologised for any offence caused

Nick Perry, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the constituency, said: "It gave the impression of not valuing those with learning disabilities sufficiently and undermining their position in the work place.

"I think she answered in a way that shows her political ineptitude."

Labour candidate Peter Chowney said: "I was somewhat shocked by her comments as many people in the audience were.

I would like to see the opposite - of getting people with neurodiversity in properly rewarding well paid jobs."

It's a hugely controversial argument, should people with learning disabilities be paid less in order to improve the employment rate of those in paid work, which currently stands at just 6% in England.

At a Conservative party fringe meeting back in 2014, Lord Freud got into hot water for making comments similar to Sally-Ann Hart's. He suggested people with learning disabilities could be paid "£2 per hour" if they wanted to work.

There was a huge uproar and the then welfare reform minister apologised. But it's not a new argument and one that some parents of those with learning disabilities believe should be up for discussion.

I've met parents who have seen their working-age sons and daughter thrive in employment, but they've also seen how challenging it can be for them to get and stay in work.

Many people with learning disabilities thrive in supported employment, believed by many to be the answer. One of the ways it works is by having someone with you to get you up to speed on those first few months in a new job. That's often all it takes.

But not everyone has access or even knows about such schemes.

Of all disabilities, the employment rate for people with learning disabilities is the lowest. Ms Hart's remarks have offended many disabled people but for those with learning disabilities who just want to work, this has simply scratched the surface of a much wider issue.

Ms Hart, who is also a councillor on Rother District Council, later said: "I was trying to emphasise that more needs to be done to help those with learning disabilities into the workplace and having properly paid work.

"I did not say anyone should be paid less."

James Taylor, from disability equality charity Scope, said: "These opinions are outdated, inexcusable, and should be consigned to history.

"Disabled people should be paid equally for the work that they do."

The candidates standing for the Hastings and Rye constituency are: Peter Chowney (Labour), Paul Crosland (Independent), Sally-Ann Hart (Conservative) and Nick Perry (Liberal Democrat).

The BBC has contacted Mr Crosland for a comment.

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