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Form over substance

A few days ago Phlip Davies MP suggested that disabled workers or those with mental health problems could get work more easily if they had the right to voluntarily opt out of the minimum wage.

He said,

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.

Let us look at a few of the responses.

“A lower minimum wage if you’re disabled? Not acceptable, sorry,” says Lucy Glennon in the Guardian.

“It is a preposterous suggestion,” MIND spokeswoman Sophie Corlett was quoted as saying in the Yorkshire Post, “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.”

“Philip Davies’s comments are another obstacle to disabled workers being treated as equal,” said Paul Farmer, chief executive of MIND, writing in the Telegraph. He added, “He has caused offence to many people who work with a mental health problem and those who want to work on an equal footing, yet struggle to overcome the stigma they face.”

Jody McIntyre in the Independent was also outraged. His suggestion that Members of Parliament should work for less than minimum wage was not bad, though. Of the mentally disabled, he said “A strong test of any progressive society is how it’s most vulnerable people are valued for their worth, rather than pitied for their faults. Philip Davies clearly places little value on the role of people with learning difficulties in our society; instead of celebrating their diversity, he chooses to reinforce the discriminatory myth that people with learning difficulties are more of a risk to employers.”

There was more, much more. After reading loads of responses I noticed something that they all had in common… as not having.

Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.

“Philip Davies is right, of course,” says Tim Worstall. “But so profoundly unfashionable that no one will say so”. He then goes on to argue that Davies is right. His views will not be purist enough for some libertarians, but the novelty of reading someone bother to put forward a chain of reasoning when talking about this topic is a bit of a thrill. The fact that he bothers to think about what will actually happen to disabled people, particularly mentally disabled people, under various scenarios shows a thousand times more compassion than the people whose response is mostly concerned with their own emotions.

A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.

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16 comments to Form over substance

  • bgates

    People with mental health problems…should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do.

    Well, yes. That’s what Mr Davies said in the first place.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Why not have all jobs at all levels of society chosen by random lot and assigned to any person, regardless of any ability or inclination to want the job? That would be the only fair way! And when are beautiful, Playboy-type, models going to be assigned to me as my fair share, instead of only going to those who can afford them? And while we’re for fairness, where’s my Rolls-Royce?
    Here in australia, we have just regressed- schoolkids can now work for less than the Union-imposed three-hour minimum that had been in place. Oh, sure, the kids will have jobs at hours they can spare, but where’s the government-imposed fairness in that?

  • Philip Davies MP clearly understands that “equitable” is better, in all respects, than is “equal”.

    A politician in agreement with societal and economic actuality, rather than just loud posturing: how refreshing.

    Best regards

  • Roue le Jour

    I didn’t see it at first, but this is clearly a cunning plan to increase public sector employment. Every disable person will have to be assessed to determine their personal minimum wage, expressed as a percentage of the able bodied minimum wage. Brilliant!

  • Lee

    Thank you for pointing out that Mr. Davies was actually telling the truth and that his suggestion would work.

  • Well said.

    This row strikes me as a particular example of a bigger fact, which is that all societies have taboos (truths which it is considered scandalous to state out loud). The Victorians are now thought prudish for not wanting truths about sex talked about in polite society, although they clearly did plenty of sex.

    In our own time, sex is exhaustively analysed in TV shows and in sex education classes. I am not complaining about this, just noting it. But imagine a barrage of TV shows about unwelcome economic truths.

    I am not a father, but I imagine that fathers nowadays pick the appropriate time to have THE TALK, about what their sons can actually expect to get paid and why, how to handle the proceeds, and other scary economic things.

  • Rich Rostrom

    1) Someone who is insane is almost certainly not worth employing at any price.

    2) I’ve seen mentions of programs in the U.S. where institutionalized mentally retarded people are put to work doing very simple tasks for modest pay. The example I recall was sorting material (glass, plastic, cardboard) at a recycling center for a few $/hour. It gives the person a way to earn money for personal luxuries, and I believe the program was exempted from minmum wage rules.

  • Richard Thomas

    Rich Rostrum, nonsense. Some places even have multiple opportunities. You can pick DJ or bouncer for example

  • Robert Speirs

    Perhaps the elephant in the living room here is that so many people realize that millions of jobs, especially in the public sphere, could be done by anyone with a pulse. Paying workers on the basis of their ability and performance is a major threat to the socialist superstructure. For instance, the Archbishop of Canterbury could be replaced by a zucchini in which is implanted an audio player loaded with the speeches of Gordon Brown, and no one would notice for years.

  • Rich Rostrom,

    While it’s true that I would be leery of employing someone with a history of full-on insanity, there are an awful lot of mental health problems short of that. I probably should have referred to “mental health problems” rather than “insanity” – I think I half-consciously chose the stronger word as a reaction against the politically correct soft-pedalling we see so often.

    That said, Richard Thomas has a point – there are jobs where “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps” is literally true.

    However, it does add to the risk of taking on a new person, in general. Hence my post.

  • Steve P

    Gaffe: something a politician is said to have made when, for once, they actually speak the truth.

  • Fraser Orr

    Let me be Captain Obvious here. The MP is wrong, we should not give disabled people the special right to opt out. Lady Liberty should be blind to such things as your gender, age, race and disabilities.

    Of course employees should have the right to hire and fire based on whatever criteria they choose, including, God forbid, the right to only hire people who can do the job they are hired for.

    Some people have other types of disability, such as lack of education since they dropped out of school to play guitar in a band, or lack of work ethic because their parents let them watch TV ten hours a day. I think people with these disabilities should also be able to opt out of the minimum wage, get a first foot on the job ladder, and become contributing members of society rather than couch potatoes.

    Which is to say Mr. Davis should have recommended giving everyone the equal right to opt out of the minimum wage, and allow people, disabled or not, to freely negotiate an employment arrangement with a potential employer.

    Frankly, I agree with the outrage directed his way. Disabled people should be treated as equal citizens. To suggest differently is truly an outrage. The problem is, as usual, the interfering fishwives in Westminster and Washington that cause the problem then ride in on their white horses to save us from their own stupidity.

  • Paul Marks

    “The minimum wage law is the most antiblack law on the statute book”.

    Walter Williams.

    Of course if there is a choice between two people and they are not allowed to compete on price (wages) then employers will not tend to take a risk – not tend to give anyone a chance to prove themselves.

    Go for the nice safe white, male, able bodied person.

    And, no, antidiscrimination laws will not help – they hurt, in the end they hurt everyone.

    Still there is a way round this “how dare you suggest no minimum wage law for the disabled”.

    Just not have a minimum wage law for anyone. It CAN NOT increase long term wages for everyone – that is just logically impossible. As a basic knowledge of how a labour market (or any market) works should tell people.

  • Laird

    “As a basic knowledge of how a labour market (or any market) works should tell people.”

    Which knowledge is, of course, sadly deficient in a very large majority of the populace.

  • Voluble

    Davies’ argument is just a special case of the reason minimum wage laws are so destructive of opportunity. If your skills are worth less than the minimum wage then you do not work. Whether this is due to mental problems, or laziness, or ignorance makes no difference. On some level the critics sense this and respond by circling the wagons.

    The left knows well the slippery slope. It is how they have achieved everything they have in the past. In their minds to allow an exception to the minimum wage law is to eventually see its destruction.

    And yes, in the US there are lots of places that give jobs to the handicapped that pay less than minimum wage. There is no reason these people should be institutionalized or put on the permanent dole if they can earn even a portion of their own expenses. These people take pride in what little they are able to do — as well they should. Indeed there are scads of otherwise able bodied people whom they are superior to morally if not intellectually.

    And judging by what I have just read from the critics, if these sub-minimum wage jobs are denied the intellectually handicapped they can always fall back on a career in journalism. Prose such as, “Dog go bark” would make as much sense and be as relevant as the usual Guardian prattle. The logic and information content is roughly equal in each instance.

  • George

    People have the right to enter into contracts with each other. How is this hard to understand?

    Employer – “I’ve got a job. I was looking for someone with all 4 limbs intact, but I’m willing to compromise if you’d agree to lower price. How about £4 per hour?

    One armed guy – “Sounds good!, When do I start?

    Alternatively, employer ignores one armed guy and hires the most able bodied person who applies. One armed guy loses a potential job due to the government taking away his right to set his own price for his work.