MP says minimum wage a hindrance to disabled jobseekers

Media caption,
Philip Davies explains why he thinks the minimum wage can hold back disabled people

A Conservative MP has suggested "vulnerable" jobseekers - including disabled people - should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage.

Backbencher Philip Davies said the £5.93-an-hour legal minimum may be a "hindrance" to some jobseekers.

Firms were likely to favour other candidates and MPs should not "stand in the way" of those who wanted to work for less to get on the "jobs ladder".

But mental health charity Mind said it was a "preposterous suggestion".

Mr Davies, the MP for Shipley, made the comments during a debate in the Commons over the minimum wage and employment opportunities.

The minimum wage is currently £5.93 an hour for those over 21, £4.92 for those aged between 18 and 20 and £3.64 for 16 and 17 year olds.

'Less of a risk'

The MP claimed the most vulnerable, 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.

They were desperate to work but continually found the "door was being closed in their face".

He said he had talked to people with mental health problems during a visit to a surgery run by the charity Mind, and they had "accepted" that they would be passed over in favour of jobseekers without disabilities.

"Given 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 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.

He continued: "My view is that for some people, the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.

"If those people who consider it is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that's some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don't see why we should be standing in their way."

Mr Davies was challenged over his remarks by fellow Tory MP Edward Leigh who told him: "Forget the fact there is a minimum wage for a moment. Why actually should a disabled person work for less than £5.93 an hour. It is not a lot of money, is it?"

Mr Davies replied that, irrespective of whether it was "right or wrong", that was "just the real world that we operate in".

He later told the BBC Radio 4's PM that the minimum wage had benefited a lot of people and he was not suggesting that vulnerable people should work for less than the legal minimum.

But he believed they should have the opportunity to do so, should they wish, for a short term to ensure they had time in the workplace "to prove themselves".


But Mind spokesman Sophie Corlett said: "It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.

"People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do."

She said employers should be educated about mental health problems, adding that more than 50% of people with mental health problems lived on weekly household income of less than £200.

A Conservative Party spokesman told the BBC: "These comments do not reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect government policy".

Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, chairman of the work and pensions committee, said more needed to be done to remove the barriers facing disabled people in the workplace but the MP's arguments were "unfair and wrong".

"To say that all disabled people should be excluded from the coverage of the minimum wage ... would be discriminatory against disabled people. It would set the cause of equality for disabled people back sometime to the middle of the last century."