Touchpaper, meet match. That’s the explosive situation engendered by Tory MP Philip Davies and his comments about disabled people this afternoon. His suggestion, made in the Commons, was that disabled people could work for less than the national minimum wage. And his justification? That the minimum wage “prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get to the first rung on the employment ladder.” Charities such as Mind have since lambasted Davies for even broaching such a thing. The phrase “nasty party” is gushing around Twitter with tidal abandon.
But before we pile on, it’s worth noting that Davies has identified an issue that is more shades of grey than black-and-white. Various states in America have experimented with loosening minimum wage restrictions for disabled workers — and have met with encouragement and resistance in return. Take this recent article on the practice in Ohio. The sheer number of disabled people being hired at less than minimum wage has provoked fears of exploitation and maltreatment. But there’s also an observation by the mother of an autistic worker: “He has a place to go and a reason to get up in the morning. I don’t care about the money.”
Sad as it is, Davies is probably right to suggest that disabled people lose out to those who aren’t, wages being kept equal. He might not have the correct solution. He might have pre-empted the response better. But that doesn’t alter the fact that there’s a genuine worry here. And soothing that worry will require discussion, not knee-jerk indignation.