By Jonathan Isaby
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This morning saw the Second Reading of Christopher Chope's Private Member's Bill, the Employment Opportunities Bill, which would allow "freely consenting adults" to opt out of the minimum wage.
During his speech in the debate, Shipley's Tory Philip Davies – never one to say the politically correct thing or to to duck away from controversy – suggested that the minimum wage was making it harder for some of the most vulnerable people in society to get a job and backed the position that anybody should be free (though not forced) to work for less than the minimum wage.
He told the Commons:
I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job. The others are unemployed, but why is that?
I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate.
Given that some of those people with a learning disability cannot, by definition, be as productive in their work as someone who does not have a disability of that nature, and given that the employer would have to pay the two people the same, it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who was going to be more productive and less of a risk. The situation was doing the people with learning difficulties a huge disservice.
As I said at the start of my remarks, the national minimum wage has been of great benefit to lots of low-paid people. However, if the Labour party is not even prepared to accept that the minimum wage is making it harder for some of those vulnerable people to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder, we will never get anywhere in trying to help these people into employment.
A Conservative spokesman has said that Davies' views "do not reflect the views of the party" whilst several charities, along with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, have attacked his stance.
But the MP is standing by his views as given to the Commons this morning. He has just appeared on Radio 4's PM programme stating that it was "a statement of the obvious" that in some cases "people with a disability are less productive than those without a disability".
He reiterated that "anyone should be able to offer to work for less than the minimum wage", although he was not saying that "people should work for less".
He went on to question why it is that the EHRC pays its disabled workers less than their non-disabled workers, according to figures he has, and then raised the issue of why people earning the minimum wage should be paying tax.