The minister's comments about disabled people not being "worth" the minimum wage show a lack of understanding of the true value of labourby Lucy Webster / October 15, 2014 / Leave a comment
“Lord Freud should resign. In suggesting that disabled people are “not worth” the minimum wage, he has shown an apparent lack of understanding which does not befit his role as welfare minister. And if he doesn’t go quietly, he should be pushed.”
A law on the minimum wage is a law like any other; we cannot pick and choose who they apply to. In suggesting that we can, Lord Freud is creating a slippery slope towards legally sanctioned discrimination of all kinds—reverting to a time we had all thought firmly in the past. Anyone with an interest in equality and the rule of law, or who values the concept of justice, should be appalled by what we have heard and should put pressure on the government to eject this relic of the 1950s.
According to the Tory minister, my labour and time are worth £2 an hour. Even when I earn a bachelor’s degree from Warwick in two years’ time, I apparently will not see an increase in my earning power, because I will still use a wheelchair. If I agreed with Lord Freud, I would be dropping out tomorrow, and you could forget that master’s degree I’ve been planning. But I don’t agree with him, because, put frankly, he is wrong, and so I will be staying right where I am.
As I have written before, disabled people in fact have much to offer employers. Increasingly, they are highly educated individuals (many are good friends of mine here at Warwick, I should know) and we are possibly the world’s best trained problem solvers. If I can get around London and manage a team of carers, I can do anything you throw my way. It is highly discriminatory to ignore or demean a person’s knowledge and skills on the basis of an unrelated characteristic.
But that’s not even the point. Lord Freud’s comments don’t just strip disabled people of their personalities by labelling us all the same, they strip us of our personhood. It is illegal to pay someone less than the minimum wage, partly so that a basic standard of living can be enforced, but also because as a society we believe that a person and their time have a unique value which is unrelated to their productive capacity. It is therefore irrelevant, in terms of the minimum wage, whether a disabled person has GCSEs or a PhD—they are a person, and that’s what counts.
If nothing is done, it will confirm what many have thought for a long time: that the Tories are not the party of disabled people. That is not a good strategy in a country with 11 million people with disabilities, many of whom will go out and vote in May’s general election. And if nothing is done, I will feel saddened that in 2014, attitudes like these are still deemed acceptable. Maybe we haven’t come as far as I thought.