Would low pay give disabled people a foot in the door?

Tory MPs in disability pay row

Tory MPs in disability pay row

By politics.co.uk staff

A proposal by Tory backbenchers to let disabled people opt out of the minimum wage to find work has been dismissed as "preposterous".

A private member's bill by Christopher Chope proposed allowing people with a disability to offer to work for lower than the minimum wage, currently at £5.93.

It attracted support from Shipley MP Philip Davies, who claimed mental health charity Mind had accepted "vulnerable" people would struggle to find work when competing with able candidates at the minimum wage.

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

"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."

Mr Chope argued that he did not want to undermine the minimum wage but complained that it stopped workers offering their services "at a price of their own choosing".

"We discriminate against those who are young or inexperienced or seeking on-the-job training," he claimed.

"We prevent people from agreeing to cut their wages to protect their jobs and we impose nationally uniform rules on on the job market, ignoring regional and local variations."

Sophie Corlett, Mind's director of external relations, said people with mental health problems should not be considered as a source of "cheap labour".

"It is simply unacceptable that fewer than four in ten employers will currently consider employing someone with a mental health problem," she said.

"We should be trying be educate employers and challenge negative attitudes towards mental health problems rather than forcing people with mental health problems to undercut their way in to the workforce."

Former Labour minister Denis MacShane quickly attacked the "assault" on the minimum wage, which is extremely unlikely to become law, in the Commons.

He called the minimum wage "that thin line that protects the poorest workers in this country from employer exploitation" and claimed the Tory MPs' idea was "the meanest, most miserable act, from a mean and miserable party that hates the working people of this country".

Tony Lloyd, chair of the parliamentary Labour party, pointed out that before the minimum wage young people worked as hairdressers for less than £1 an hour.

"Why did they take that work? Because they were young people who felt that they had to buy into the workplace," he said.

"They had to accept way below any acceptable level of remuneration and way below an income that anyone could seriously live on in the hope that it would give them the experience to carry on in the trade. That was wrong then and it would be wrong if we were to bring it back again."