Third-class workers: those with disability?

There are currently two different pay rates for the National Minimum Wage (NMW). Those aged 18 to 20 get £5.13 per hour, and the rest get £6.50.

It would seem that some in Conservative circles think there should be a third category, the disabled, for whom as little as £2 per hour would be their choice. I do not agree.

The argument supposedly goes that there are some disabled whose disability is so great that the NMW is a barrier to them being employed. Employers, so it is claimed, need to be bribed in order to see the merits of employing them. This bribe could, it has been postulated, come in the form of financial incentives that would boost the pittance that employers actually wish to recompense the so-called extremely disabled. Alternatively, one could just give the severely disabled a very low salary.

This fails on a number of levels.

The NMW is meant to be the minimum recompense for labour given. It is presumed that those who work (and I happy to agree) must expect a salary floor; this serves two purposes, not only does it end exploitative practises but is also is recognition that there is a minimum worth for all workers. The happy by-product is, of course, increased spending power – a gain for society in general. Those on the lowest wages spend the greatest proportion of their wages (saving a near impossibility) and thus increase the prospects of others seeking employment or profit.

If an employer could get away with employing people for as little as £2 an hour it would also give them a competitive advantage over those who pay the proper rates for a job.

I have yet to meet an employer who would see his business jeopardised by employing someone incapable of doing their job. If incentives are to be offered to employers so that they will consider employing the disabled (in itself not at all objectionable) then how about giving grants if and where the workplace has to be modified. Most places of employment should already be disabled friendly, but you can imagine circumstances where extra measure may be required. These one-off incentives make sense to me in an way that long-term incentives to under-pay do not.

There will be jobs that the disabled just cannot do. However there are jobs (such as mine) which they will be able to do just as well as any person who is not disabled.

What the Conservatives have said (and, admittedly, backtracked on) is effectively there is an inferior type of worker – the disabled. So inferior that even the minimum (which I hope that many will be earning far more than in any case) is more than they deserve.

Utterly, utterly shameful.

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