From the TUC

Disabled people and the minimum wage

17 Jun 2011, by in Economics, Working Life

Would disabled people actually benefit if they were paid less than the minimum wage? Today Conservative MP Philip Davies claimed that allowing employers to pay a lower wage to disabled people would help them to get jobs: “the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help”, he said.

This isn’t just morally wrong, it’s bad labour market policy as well. After the national minimum wage was introduced without excluding disabled people, employment rates rose for disabled people and the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people came down.

The context for all this was the Employment Opportunities Bill, yet another attempt by Christopher Chope MP to water down the minimum wage. The Private Member’s Bill was easily seen off – it only attracted 5 votes in favour – but Philip Davies succeeded in snatching the limelight from Mr Chope.

Mr Davies says he decided that disabled people would be better off without the minimum wage after visiting a surgery run by Mind, the mental health charity, where people with mental health problems had “accepted” that they would have difficulty competing for jobs with non-disabled jobseekers.

The suggestion that employers must be bribed with a lower pay bill to recruit disabled people shows a complete lack of understanding of the capacities of disabled people generally and people with mental health problems in particular. Excuse me for getting a bit hot under the collar – I have a history of depression, so I took this personally – and I was particularly pleased by Mind‘s robust response:

It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than the minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer. People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do.

Excluding disabled people from the minimum wage would be a badge of second-class citizenship – and would be likely to make non-disabled workers suspicious that having disabled colleagues could lead to their terms and conditions being undercut. This is a proposal designed to exacerbate social and economic tensions. (Apparently, Mr Davies believes that responses like this are “left-wing hysteria.”)

But we don’t have to rely on the moral case against this proposal. The whole notion that the minimum wage is a threat to jobs and keeps the most disadvantaged people out of work has been undermined by experience since it was introduced – until the global recession hit, employment rose continuously after the NMW was brought in.

This is particularly true for the employment of disabled people. Earlier this month, Getting In, Staying On and Getting On, Liz Sayce’s report on the employment of disabled people for the Department of Work and Pensions, noted that “gap between disabled and non-disabled people’s employment rates has shrunk over the past 12 years”. The report includes a very useful chart, showing the employment rate for disabled people, compared with the overall population:

The best indicator we have of the relative employment disadvantage faced by disabled people is the disability employment gap and the evidence is that it narrowed in the years after the minimum wage was introduced.

And even after the global recession caused unemployment to rise for all groups, that gap continued shrinking. As the latest report from the Low Pay Commission noted:

Analysis of the labour market outcomes of different groups of workers found that the employment rates of women, ethnic minorities as a group, disabled people and older workers held up better than average during the recession. Their unemployment rates also rose by less on average.

There’s an even more fundamental flaw in Mr Davies’ argument: yes, disabled people still face significant disadvantage in the labour market and their unemployment rate has risen (like everyone else’s). But that isn’t down to the minimum wage: it’s because there aren’t enough jobs to go round. There are more than five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy at present; fiddling with the minimum wage rules won’t change that reality for anyone.

9 Responses to Disabled people and the minimum wage

  1. Lee
    Jun 17th 2011, 8:51 pm

    I’m 49 years old, have Asperger’s syndrome and have never worked. In order to get my first job I need to be able to offer an employer something, and I think that being able to work for less than minimum wage might just do it.

    I doubt that financially I’d be any worse off due to the complicated interaction between the various benefits I receive and the fees I have to pay to Social Services for my care.

  2. D r richards
    Jun 18th 2011, 5:07 am

    your own graph shows the lack of employed disabled people, the mind quote backs this up. “should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do”
    Sadly some people can only do jobs with a value of less than the minimum wage. Employers should not pick up the social responsibility for supporting these people. Those who work should not then be penalised by a reduction in social benefits the work regularly assessed to ensure it’s contribution is les than the minimum wage and therefore ensure they are not exploited.
    They will gain a sense of worth be employed contributing and hopefully prove they can do a minimum wage job, to take them off some benefits. So you would rather have 60% unemployment of DDA people since 1998. What’s your solution to giving someone a sense of worth and work experience. Lack of jobs is not a valid argument as employers have to create a job at minimum wage value, whereas they my have a work a disabled person could do but not to the value of £6 a hour they just share the task among the workforce. Whereas they could be given an incentive to employ a DDA person under minimum wage. Job like sandwich delivery the above gentleman may wish to do this rather sit and watch daytime telly. Once in the shop they could show what they could do and build up to a minimum wage job taking them off some benefits. Currently that work is done as a very small part of everyone’s job in turn.

  3. DiverseJustice
    Jun 19th 2011, 9:20 pm

    I suffer the Clinical Level of depression and personality disorder. Out of my work history i haven’t been able to last any longer that 3 months at any time within employment. Over 2 decades and 33 employment positions. 18 of which had been with the same company. That particular company kept giving myself wage rises in order for myself to try stick that work out. However, I can’t help the way this illness is having dire effects upon my life. The hourly rate in the early 80’s had been £4.40 at the beginning of my employment. Within 8 months had risen to £8.00 per hour, this had been general labouring type work. The problems that I had to endure during those 2 decades was the ongoing suspention of benefits due to my illness not being diagnosed at the time. The final crunch came once i had ended up in a serious accident within the work place this brought with it a progressive state towards my illness. It was latter found that I personally had no insight into dangerous situations this was due to the numerous reports of accidents over a long period of time. Did this as a disabled person leave myself as of a lesser value than a non disabled person when in fact my wages were increasing steadily above most others during that time. I’ll say! this to that MP don’t bring the dignity nor the intelect of a disabled person down in that way, you disgraced yourself in your statement. Most disabled as well as myself only want equal opportunity and a little bit of understanding towards the varying ailments that covers the various disabilities. Government should be held acountable for the jobs it creates rather than acting like fools on promoting stigma amonst the disabled and unemployed alike.

  4. John Hargrave
    Jun 20th 2011, 6:57 am

    The minimum wage is what it says it is ‘the minimum wage’. Disabled people should be offered support and training to get jobs. I know many disabled people who would love to work, however the barriers they face are enormous,and until people’s attitudes change this problem will remain. Employers will not take on board the responsibility for adapting the workspace so disabled people can work. As the numbers of able bodied people out of work continues to grow, so the jobs market will be looking for the best people with good skills, and non-working disabled people will continue to be ‘frozen out’. To attempt to pay disabled people less than the minimum wage is totally disgraceful.
    As for disabled people in employment already, a study by a leading disability charity, some two years ago, found that on average, they were better time keepers and more conscientious, than most other workers.

  5. Peter Morris
    Jun 21st 2011, 10:47 am

    Iff disabled people were to be paid less than the minimum wage then there would no longer be a minimum wage!

  6. Mike
    Jun 22nd 2011, 10:22 am

    I’m sorry but I think “D r richards” is completely missing the point on what the minimum wage is, or should be. “my have a work a disabled person could do but not to the value of £6 a hour” – well how do you value work? To answer that you need to look at not what profit the employer could make but why someone works in the first place – to keep a roof over their head and put food on the table. If a job can’t fulfil that criteria then it’s of no value to the employee so the minimum wage, which should be a living wage, should therefore be at a value someone can afford to live on. So “sandwich delivery”, no matter how menial it may seem to you Mr Richards, should always attract a wage that someone can survive on otherwise the job doesn’t fulfil it’s essential critera.

    Of course there’s going to be more disabled people in work with a scheme like that, companies will be sacking non-disabled people in their droves to access these cut-price workers but we all know it’s not really about trying to get a better deal for the disabled, it’s about trying to devalue the workforce to further enhance profits of large corporations.

  7. manish shahi
    Jul 1st 2011, 10:43 am

    i want a job i am a unemployed disebeled person .my disability type orthopedically handicapped(OC).

  8. roy johnson
    Jul 1st 2011, 10:13 pm

    No i do not think that government should do tht its exploiting the disabled this country going down fast

  9. Disabled Schools
    Jul 26th 2011, 3:25 pm

    Some great research here! Thanks so much for sharing! It was extremely insightful!