Recently the Conservative MP Philip Davies argued that disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage, as they face greater barriers to employment:
The people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society. My concern about it is it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder.
Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that 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, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”
Some of what he said was very insulting, especially the bit about people with a learning difficulty being inherently more inefficient then those without (given that many people with conditions such as dyslexia are highly productive), and he has been heavily and rightly criticised for it. He is also wrong to focus on the national minimum wage, and his plan would create a two tier system within a firm.
Mr. Davies was right in several ways however; that many employers are unwilling to take on people with visible/severe disabilities because of the perceived extra cost and hassle. And he is right too to argue that merely saying that it is illegal to discriminate doesn’t stop employers turning down applicants for this reason. After all, if there are thirty applicants for a job, nobody notices if an employer turns down the one with a disability.
Clearly attitudes need to change. But in the meantime, there is a way to make some disabled applicants more attractive to employers. Some people with disabilities do need their employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their workplace, such as hearing loops. Since this is a requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), many employers aren’t willing to take them on because of the extra cost.
This is where Access to Work comes in. This is a little known, but very useful scheme which refunds employers for the purchase of disability related equipment. A recent DWP report estimated its spending return:
Medium term, greater investment is needed in Access to Work, as it reaps net benefits to the Exchequer – an estimated return to the Treasury of £1.48 for every £1 invested, with even higher returns to society overall (including improved health and well-being).
The benefits include keeping people in work who would otherwise be claiming out of work benefits. Yet because Access to Work is mostly unknown, employers aren’t able to take advantage of it. Educating employers about Access to Work would have a greater impact than worrying about lowing the minimum wage for disabled workers.
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Filed in: Disability