A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Tory MP says disabled people should be forced to work in labour camps for starvation wages, then sold as meat for cattle feed

That, in itself, wasn’t very interesting. But what is very interesting was the reaction from normally intelligent, critically thinking people who read the words “disabled” and “minimum wage” together and jumped to a huge number of crazy conclusions before actually understanding what Davies was saying.

No I'm afraid he didn’t.

Er, no he’s not suggesting we should treat disabled people any differently to anyone else.

(Edit: @josephbush has since clarified that there was an element of sarcasm in this tweet.)

Davies was saying that:
  • Some vulnerable people were suffering as a result of the minimum wage legislation.
  • Disabled people were an example of a group that was affected particularly badly.
  • We shouldn’t be standing in the way of people trying to find work if they consider this legislation to be a hindrance.
This isn’t rocket science. The economy isn’t exactly booming right now. There are many people willing to take minimum wage work and the employer can take their pick. Employers will naturally take the person who is best able to do the job. Anyone less able than anyone else applying for a minimum wage position simply won’t be able to get a job – denied employment by law.

Davies doesn’t suggest that we should allow only disabled people the freedom to negotiate their wages. The conversation has moved on by this point. He’s clear that his argument applies to anyone who sees the minimum wage as a hindrance:

"My view is that for some people the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.

"If those people who consider it is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that's some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don't see why we should be standing in their way."

The disabled were used as an example of a group that is harmed, nothing more.

He’s also not saying anyone “should” work for less; he’s merely defending their right to do so if they are unable to find higher paid work.

Work doesn’t just provide money, it provides self-esteem. It provides you with the pride in knowing you are sustained by your own work rather than charity. In my opinion, nobody should be denied this right simply because they are unable to sell their time for more than minimum wage.

The outrage caused some of the most preposterous tweets I’ve seen:

Davies said:
“some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability”
Now you could interpret this as saying a person with a learning disability is never as productive as someone without, but I think it’s unlikely that this is what was meant. What Davies likely means is that a learning difficulty is likely to make someone less productive rather than more.

If a job requires learning, then someone who finds it difficult to learn will be less productive at that element of their job.

If they are equally productive in the skill of learning, they haven’t got a learning difficulty. As Davies said, this is true by definition.

You might be ideologically opposed to allowing people to freely negotiate their income. You might get angry. You might have other reasons for thinking Davies is a cock (like voting against gay rights for instance).

But before criticising anything, I encourage you to read and understand what is being said.


@dts1970 said...

By suggesting people should have the right to negotiate a lower salary than the minimum wage basically makes the minimum wage impotent. Its a typical libertarian view that people have rights to negotiate there own deals. All this would lead to is a driving down of salaries at the low end of the scale, the end that needs the protection. It would lead to an I'm alright jack mentality. The minimum wage is there to provide a fall back level for people, a level below which people should not work for less. Why would the work of someone disabled be worth less than someone able bodied, when doing the same job? A libertarian view of the world is one which scares me, where those in society who are weakest would be sold the myth of more freedom, while the reality would be oppression for the weakest, not freedom.

Arthur said...

I agree.

If disabled people were able to advertise their services so they were cheaper to hire than 'normal' people, then we could have a full work force of disabled people, running concurrently with the 'normal' workforce.

So, imagine we were working together in a team: me, a disabled person, and Simon Perry, all doing the same job, the disabled person would receive less money for that work. Because they were disabled.

Which normal person could possibly object to such a scheme?

Anonymous said...

I suspect that most of us would like to be paid at least according to what we are worth (or some minimum, depending on which is the greater), but in most cases a person's worth is generally an unknown quantity, determined only after the fact of employment. Thus initial remuneration, in the absence of any regulation, has traditionally been set by prejudice, with lower rates for women, the young, the disabled and ethnic minorities. Legislation has attempted to correct this, though not always successfully. If this proposal were to become law, then low wages would once again become the norm for these groups, regardless of their actual worth. Negotiation would not be an option.

MWStory said...

Well said, Simon. I have been as amazed as you over this.

Firstly, the coverage of this has mainly been a kind of signalling behaviour- getting angry about a perceived slight to the disabled is a way to demonstrate that you are a caring person without the need to look into the issue further.

Secondly, a lot of the language tossed around in econ sounds very judgemental to the econ illiterate, and it's often that that they are upset about rather than the logic behind the arguments (see the tweets getting angry over the word 'productivity' you've quoted above). This is part of a wider phenomenon of 'cold' scientific language being offputting and driving people into the arms of 'caring' but unsound alternatives, be it homeopathy or the New Economics Foundation.

Finally though, the most ridiculous thing about this storm in a teacup is that what Philip Davies talked about *already exists!* It's called therapeutic pay, and it's a small allowance of a few pounds per hour paid to people in supported employment who are not able to work at a level which would open them up to minimum wage, but need to build up experience to boost their productivity and enter the workforce. It's administered by the NHS.

James Cranch said...

Sadly, these are identical to arguments used worldwide through the ages by all manner of exploitative bastards.

In countries that permit them, a sweatshop owner can proudly tell you that his wages have been fixed by free negotiation with his employees. And it's true: if he paid them any less, they'd be forced crawl, bloody on their knees, to the next town and the next sweatshop which pays exactly the same derisory amount.

We introduced the minimum wage for a reason, and that reason is protecting the vulnerable.

By the way, on an unrelated topic, I wish I could make it to more Leicester SitP meetings. Some speakers strongly fail to appeal to me (especially that warmonger David Aaronovitch), but much of it looks like good clean fun.

Lee said...

I'm 49 years old, have Asperger's syndrome and have never had a job.

I need to be able to offer an employer something so that he will at least just consider giving me a job; and I reckon that his being able to pay me less than statutory minimum wage might just do it.

I doubt I would be any worse off than actually being paid a proper wage because of the complex interactions between the various benefits I receive and the amount of money I have to pay to social services for my care. In effect a wages subsidy would be in operation.

I desperately want to work, and need to work, so that I can fully contribute to, and participate in, society; and strive to become the best person I'm capable of becoming - and the minimum wage legislation is hindering me in my search for employment.

Nick g said...

Remember, for you this will be voluntary. For everyone else it will be compulsory. Once they a hand full of disabled.people in the system this will be all the ammunition they need to drive down the amount people recieve and to limit it to the most serious of cases.

Lee, I doubt your condition makes you a lesser human being than the rest of us. Don't campaign to let them treat you as such. The villain here is the system which allows employers to overlook anyone who is less.than perfect., not the minium wage (which is far to low for many parts of the country as it is.)

Unknown said...

It's an interesting argument. Equal Ops legislation isn't working, so we subsidise employers to make it work. I can see how it would offend people, but that's reality.

Should only disabled people be allowed to opt out of the minimum wage, or should anyone who is discriminated against be allowed? For example statistics suggests women are not given the same opportunities as men. Should they be allowed to negotiate a lower pay scale to help make them more competitive? When you're not sexist, racist etc yourself it can be easy to overlook that other people still may be.

It's also a matter of subsidy. To enable sub-minimum wage workers to work for that pay, the state makes up the shortfall in benefits. So effectively this is a public handout for companies that can't, or won't pay a living wage. Instead of one person on benefits, you have two. The underpaid worker and the other person who would have had the job but is now on unemployment benefit. Unless Arthur can explain how one vacancy becomes two.

I think the disabled need a bit more more constructive help than a 20% off sticker. If there I were an easy solution I'd offer it here, but I don't see it's a simple economic problem.

Unknown said...

For me, Davies statement is pretty unequivocal about the 'definitive' productivity of people with a learning disability; but agree, this story warrants an honest perspective.

I'd also contest Simon's point:

"If a job requires learning, then someone who finds it difficult to learn will be less productive at that element of their job.

If they are equally productive in the skill of learning, they haven’t got a learning difficulty. As Davies said, this is true by definition."

Actually, intelligence and learning ability isn't always global, so it's entirely plausible that someone with a learning disability might learn aspects of their job as quickly as their non-learning disabled colleagues, providing that aspect falls within their skill set. In rarer cases, it's possible that people with autistic talents (for instance) might struggle in many areas of learning/life, but acquire certain routined/mathematical skills much quicker/better than their non-disabled disabled colleagues?

Just think we should guard against simplistic sweeping statements here.


Lisa said...

In response to theraputic earnings - when I was on that scheme, I was paid the same amount per hour as all my other work collegues - there was a limit on the total amount earned before benefits were decreased, and then pay over that amount was taken from your benefits pound for pound - so you were able to earn an amount on top of your benefits, working for a certain number of hours (which I think had a limit as well) and having a theraputic support worker. If you are able to work more hours you shift to disability credits. Mr Davies only referred to the 'mentally ill' and people with learning disabilities when he was talking in the Commons. As somebody with mental healths problems, I found what he said offensive. When he was on Newsnight later that day, it seemed to me that he really doesn't understand the needs and issues of the people he was talking about. In our mental health Trust we now employ over 50 people with mental health problems who have completed a specifically designed training course. Before implemntation, the current workforce wanted to be assured that they wouldn't lose jobs or wages by having a new group of people coming in who may have had less experience or different training. It seemed good for everybody's well-being that for the integration of people with disabilities was not done at the expense of the current workforce. Essential to good working practice.

Tom said...

Imagine if you rented a TV, and the remote was missing. You'd send it back and get a new one, or you'd ask for some money back, wouldn't you? So employers are merely getting some of their money back when they rent... sorry, EMPLOY (you're right, it is confusing - one false word and you're treating people like slaves!!!!!!) staff who turn out to be, y'know, broken.

The fact that there are plenty of jobs disabled people can do just as well as able-bodied people (like if you rented a portable DVD player but the screen was broken BUT IT'S OKAY because you only wanted to play CDs on it anyway) is neither here nor there.

Look, often these disabled TVs... sorry, PEOPLE... are missing a whole limb or even two! Yet they want paying the same as the rest of us!!!!! You wouldn't pay the same for a 26" TV as you would for a 32" TV, would you?

Dojokain said...

At what point do we just consider people to be batteries that can be wired up to turn a profit, if we are to look at a truely viable workforce we should look to the paper boys/girls and wonder why it is dangeous to sent childrean out to work a few hours a week to earn pocket money and allow them to contribute to society, truth is if we could trust our neighbours and know that someone harming a man women or child we could find solice in people being properly punished. My point being maybe if people feel more safe in thier streets they will clean them themselves, It would not be the first time...
Idealism is easy not coming across as a tool is hard.

Also just to point out to people convinced that equality exist:- Women earned the right to "vote" then the rights to equal "wage" - however men never earned the right to retire at the same as women - if you truely want equal rights maybe focus more on the overwhelming stupidity and lazyness that has instilled itself in not only poor people but all people. A yahoo is a yahoo can i vote to have those paid less than minimum wage so that people using heart mind and soul may earn a decent wage, or do i just seem foolish to assume that people of all ages work all kinds of jobs, and just to point out many have no choice.