June 17, 2011 by Rhi
You’d have to be a complete newsphobe to have missed the furore over the comment made today by Philip Davies (MP for Shipley) regarding people with learning disabilities.
Just in case, I’ll fill you in. In a debate in the House of Commons this morning, during the second reading of the Employment Opportunites bill, Mr Davies spoke out in support of the changes, citing the following experience as a reason for abolishing the National Minimum wage:
I went to visit a charity called Mind in Bradford a few years ago. One of the great scandals that the Labour party would like to sweep under the carpet is that in this country only about 16%—I stand to be corrected on the figure—of people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities have a job. The others are unemployed, but why is that? I spoke to people at Mind who were using the service offered by that charity, and they were completely up front with me about things. They described what would happen when someone with mental health problems went for a job and other people without these problems had also applied. They asked me, “Who would you take on?” They accepted that it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who had no mental health problems, as all would have to be paid the same rate. Given that some of those people with a learning disability cannot, by definition, be as productive in their work as someone who does not have a disability of that nature, and given that the employer would have to pay the two people the same, it was inevitable that the employer would take on the person who was going to be more productive and less of a risk. The situation was doing the people with learning difficulties a huge disservice.
As I said at the start of my remarks, the national minimum wage has been of great benefit to lots of low-paid people. However, if the Labour party is not even prepared to accept that the minimum wage is making it harder for some of those vulnerable people to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder, we will never get anywhere in trying to help these people into employment.
Source: Parliament UK
My immediate reaction is “Huh?”. In a debate around a bill which doesn’t have the support of the government, it seems that Mr Davies has probably not made himself very popular with the proposer. I mean, here’s someone’s big chance to be heard on the BBC Parliament channel, and some upstart has come blundering in with some wholly inappropriate, and factually inaccurate tosh, and effectively blown it out of the water.
Mr Davies is apparently under the impression that people with “learning disabilities” are, without exception, less productive than those without. That’s a pretty impressive assumption. Surely it depends on the job? If we assume the Hon gentleman was thinking of those in society who’s disabilities inhibit their cognitive processes, then surely their productivity is entirely dependant on the tasks they’re being asked to perform?
The World Health Organisation defines a learning disability thus:
‘a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind’. Somebody with a learning disability is said also to have ‘significant impairment of intellectual functioning’ and ‘significant impairment of adaptive/social functioning’
However, especially in an education environment, certain conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia are also considered to be learning disabilities. These can vary greatly in their severity, and therefore in their effect on an individuals day to day life.
I’m sure Mr Davies thought he was onto a winner with his comments. I’m certain that he thought this would be one which the opposers of the bill would be unable to come back on. It would probably have helped if he had a better grasp of legislation in this country. By singling out disable people as benefitting from the abolition of the National Minimum Wage, he is inadvertently advocating the illegal practice of discriminating against disabled people in direct contradiction of the Equalities Act 2010. If a person is qualified to do a job, then their disability should not be a bar to them being considered for it. Of course, silent discrimination exists. But the way to combat that should punish those who seek to discriminate, not the disabled people who are already subject to it.
I know many people with learning disabilities, ranging from dyslexia, to that associated with more severe conditions like Downs Syndrome. All are valuable members of society, and I would be horrified to think that I, as someone with no disability, would be able to command a higher wage based purely on my good fortune at not being “afflicted”. A learning disability is what is says – it affects learning. Not doing. And I suspect that the ease with which Mr Davies so spectacularly grasped completely the wrong end of the stick today, a lack of conventional intellect is no bar to sitting as Member of Parliament.