The Conservative MP Philip Davies has drawn righteous flak for suggesting that the disabled should be able to opt out of the minimum wage because, apparently, we're less productive than other candidates.
As a disabled British person who has been in almost continuous, if varied, employment for the past 20 years, my first thought was that if Mr. Davies thinks the able-bodied are productive he clearly hasn't worked in some of the same places that I have. It is also gratifying to see that David Cameron's people have rejected the idea. To my mind, this amounts to a Coalition commitment to maintaining the minimum wage.
That Mr. Davies is, to my eyes, a Tory Neanderthal goes without saying. In the real world, it is highly unlikely that the program he has suggested would ever happen, which makes me wonder just how much he knows about 'the real world'. When faced with a disabled candidate and a non-disabled candidate, if a prospective employer believes that the disabled candidate is going to be less productive than the non-disabled candidate then it would be irrational for him to hire the disabled, regardless of whether or not the disabled candidate had the option of opting out of the minimum wage. For Mr. Davies to express the view that an employer might take on a less productive employee than he could get because they're willing to work for less than what would otherwise be the going rate is the babbling of a naive ideologue. It does, however, neatly sum up both the basis of British immigration policy for the past 15 years and also the philosophy underpinning the phenomenon of 'offshoring'. While his views might be daft, Mr. Davies might just have been preaching to the choir.
However, if his views gain momentum, and, sadly, I suspect they will, given what I perceive to be the mounting degree of unpleasantness being both felt and expressed towards the disabled in our country (a situation which is not going to be improved by permitting the idea that the disabled are undercutting wages to develop), then one might be able to suggest a series of trade-offs to make his Vision for a Better Britain come true.
For example, if the disabled must be given the option of being able to be paid less than our fellows, it would seem only fair for us to also be given the option of opting out of the income tax system in its entirety. I see no virtue in a system which would permit the institutional pauperisation of the disabled by paying them less for the same work as their able-bodied colleagues, while subjecting them to a universal rate of income tax. In such a scenario, to permit the disabled and non-disabled to work on different pay rates would amount to a double pay cut, the first being the lower pay rate, the second being a rate of income tax de facto higher than that paid by their colleagues on account of being paid less in real terms.
If that proposal is unappealing, there could be an alternative, a Disabled Workers Credit that could be claimed by all disabled people who feel that they have had to opt themself out of minimum wage in order to gain work (I suspect that the pressure that would be put on unemployed disabled people by the Department of Work and Pensions to opt out would be enormous). Its purpose would be to top up reduced earnings to the level which would have been payable had they not opted out. Mr. Davies might not be aware of this, but when you come off JSA you have to pay rent instead of claiming Housing Benefit. The purpose of the Disabled Workers Credit would be to ensure that disabled workers opting out of minimum wage don't then immediately get themselves into rent arrears because they're earning less than they need in order to pay their rent, and lose their jobs as a result. The extent of the naivety behind Mr. Davies's babblings is alarming,
However, given that opting out of minimum wage would amount to a surrender of economic liberty, it would only be appropriate for a liberty not to be granted, but taken. If the disabled must work for less money, it is only appropriate that the vote of a disabled person should carry more weight than that of a non-disabled person. Having given up more than others to ensure the system's success, it is only appropriate that they should have more of a say in how it is run. I could quite happily live in a country where my vote has 10 times the weight of Alex Salmond's. I do not imagine this would be politically feasible, but we're a democracy, or so we're told, and the poor, the sick and the weak aren't just thrown on the scrapheap - aren't they?
Labels: The Back Of The Bus