Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What Being A Disabled Worker In The United Kingdom Is Like (In The Real World)

After writing my post of Sunday night on the Neanderthal comments of Philip Davies MP regarding allowing the disabled to opt out of the minimum wage, I came across Tim Worstall's sadly inevitable, and also, and equally sadly, inevitably flawed defence of them.

I like Tim a lot, he is a very generous person, but as Owen Barder once remarked of him there are times when he jumps in both feet first, and this has been one of them. At the time of writing this, the link to Tim's post is down, but I will link to it in the event of its reappearance, and quote from memory. Readers can decide whether I have done so accurately when it is restored.

As an example of the sort of disabled person who might benefit from opting out of minimum wage, Tim suggests a teenage Down's Syndrome sufferer. In the comments, I have pointed out that there aren't any teenage Down's Syndrome sufferers, not in the UK at least. The last time I saw one was in Dublin in 2009. Tim lives in Portugal, and may see them there on account of the local prevalence of Catholic ethics. In the UK, and also I believe in the USA, the suffering imposed by Down's Syndrome may be on schedule for elimination, although someone will have deemed it necessary to eliminate the sufferers in order to do so. Perhaps Richard D. North, writer and broadcaster, and also, in my opinion, a nasty old rascal, might hail this as a progressive step. Davies seems just to want not to pay for us. North gives the impression of not wanting even to see us.

Davies has suggested that the changes he proposes are necessary in order to help disabled people get a job in 'the real world'. Oligarchical Darwinists like Davies, whose comments give me the impression that he's just another of the cheap labour lobby's mindless, bog standard sock-puppets, like to cite the 'real world' in defence of their positions, when in my experience the real world they describe is one which is both unreal and unworldly. While his attempt to cast the disabled as the new Poles, The New Next Big Untapped Labour Market Just Waiting to Be Enserfed In The Cause Of Cheap Labour, is perversely flattering, to my eyes it's also risibly transparent. In Davies's case, the attempt is even more insolent and patronising than usual. He would never dream of suggesting that black people be permitted to opt themselves out of the minimum wage solely because they are black, and quite rightly so, so why should he suggest it of the disabled? As a third-generation public scholboy and third-genration university graduate, nothing has given me such experience of what life is really like as becoming disabled, a level of exposure to reality in all its hideousness that I would imagine Davies would struggle to cope with.

However, after reading Tim's post, I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to outline just a few of the issues that his factually fictional Down's Syndrome teenager would encounter in Davies's 'real world', should the type of law he desires be enacted.

Well, the first challenge they would encounter is how those hard-headed practical men living in the real world, the ones who would be employing this glut of disabled cheap labour, would cope with the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act. Say what? Yes, the Disability Discrimination Act, the one that requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees if it is reasonable for them to do so. If Tim's Down's sufferer couldn't cope with pushing trolleys for his multi-billion pound supermarket employer, said multi-billion pound supermarket employer would have to make a reasonable adjustment for him, which, given its size, would I imagine lead any employment tribunal hearing such a DDA case to find that it would be reasonable for them to do. There is a perfect way round this, of course, which is to scrap DDA, which unfortunately Westminster can't do, given that, to my understanding, it emanated from Brussels.

So that's point one dealt with. The second would be whether Tim's Down's sufferer would actually be able to opt out of the minimum wage, or have their opting-out presented to them as a fait accompli.

In my experience as a serial holder of low-income jobs in the real world, I have never, to my knowledge, actually been given the option of opting out of the Working Time Directive, that European initiative that limits the working week to 48 hours. I don't have my current contract to hand, but vividly recall signing a number of contracts which indicated that by signing the contract I consented to opting out of WTD. Again if flawed memory serves, this was a particular feature of contracts I signed with recruitment consultancies providing temporary staff (you should feel no pity for me on this score, for I was a recruitment consultant for three years, and probably colluded in doing this to others; at that time, I thought I was living in the real world, and God will not be mocked). Now, I could quite easily envision a situation whereby Tim's Down's sufferer gets handed a piece of paper to sign, which states that their signature indicates that they have opted out of the laws regarding the payment of the statutory minimum wage. It would be directly analogous to the situation in which many millions of able-bodied and low-paid British people, those of whose lives Philip Davies and those like him seem to know nothing, have found themselves in regarding their right to opt out of the Working Time Directive; as far as they're concerned, the right is solely a notional one, for people are on their back to get them to work, and the people with the jobs won't let them have one unless they sign away their right to a 48 hour week for nothing.

Who would be on their backs to get them to work? Why, the Department of Work and Pensions, of course.

In his 'Diaries', Richard Crossman, the first Secretary of State of the Department of Health and Social Security (as was) in the late 1960's, records how even then it seemed to be the case that the welfare state's administrators seemed to be deliberately unhelpful to those who were seeking their assistance, and opaque in the information they provided. I am sad to say that I have personally encountered, as in been on the receiving end, of two separate instances of such behaviours in the past three years. No matter what name the welfare state goes by, its attitude towards those who seek its help has not changed since Crossman's time in my experience. Having been on their receiving end, it's fair to say that both experiences were squalid.

In 2008, I required to claim Incapacity Benefit. The focus of Incapacity Benefit is (was?) not to tide you over until you recover, but to get you back to work. The pressure that was put on sick people to get back to work in 2008 was enormous. It was squalid.

Equally squalid was the experience of dealing with a benefit adviser in 2010, whose nominal function was to assist me with a claim for Disability Living Allowance. One of the individual quirks of my Tourettes that is that while I cannot walk forwards very far without falling over, I can walk backwards with considerable ease. In that adviser's view, that alone rendered my claim unsupportable, and I felt under such pressure from them to drop it that I caved. I got the distinct impression that this individual was more interested in the management of their statistics than in helping me claim DLA. I am glad that I believe in a physical, real place called Hell, and that the idea of going there hopefully prevents me from treating any another person in such a squalid way.

The best way to describe that adviser was that they were not unlike those Grizzlies who come down from the mountains to root among trashcans, or the Siberian tigers who hunt in the suburbs of Vladivostok; they were a hunter who should be a long way from civilisation, but who now lives, furtively and sneakily, on the margins of society, hoping for easy prey.

The operations of the British welfare state have shown, in my opinion and experience, that while the corpse of Jeremy Bentham has been stuffed and mounted in its case for a very long time now, his vengeful, hateful spirit still strides among us. Anyone who says it doesn't, doesn't know know what they're talking about it.

So the authorities, those possessing nominal duties of care to those such as Tim's Down's Syndrome teenager, probably wouldn't hesitate to put the frighteners on them in order to get them off the benefit roll. Hopefully any law which enabled the disabled to enserf themselves by opting out of minimum wage would also allow for any contract presented to them to be reviewed by an independent and appropriate adult, with a power to veto the employment without penalty to the disabled person. Philip Davies MP might consider this to be an unnecessary regulatory burden, and he might be right.

After all, he lives in the real world.



Blogger A. Lee Firth said...

'I have pointed out that there aren't any teenage Down's Syndrome sufferers, not in the UK at least.'

What a strange comment to make; is it some sort of sarcasm?

22 June, 2011 07:40  
Blogger Martin said...

No, Lee, it's not, it's just empirical observation.



22 June, 2011 21:46  
Blogger A. Lee Firth said...

Of course there are teenagers with Downs Syndrome. There are people of all ages with Downs syndrome.

22 June, 2011 21:48  
Blogger Martin said...

Where? Where I live, I don;t see any under 40.

22 June, 2011 22:30  

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