Trip, trap, Phillip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley and full time Tory Troll, came out from under his bridge this week to make the claim that the minimum wage, set at a princely £5.93 per hour, is a ‘hindrance’ to some jobseekers.
The jobseekers in question belong to the ‘vulnerable’ category, as opposed I suppose those people without a source of income who feel relaxed and confident about where their life is going. This includes people with disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health problems, all of whom Mr Davies claims are being held back from finding work by the minimum wage and having to compete with able bodies candidates.
The solution, he suggests, is for these people to work for less than the minimum wage as a way of getting a foot in the door with employers; the fact that some employers might well see this as carte blanche to take advantage of people when they’re at their lowest ebb seems to have passed Mr Davies by entirely. Anyway, he has empirical evidence to prove his point, well someone at a surgery run by mental health charity MIND in his constituency who told him that they ‘accepted’ being passed over by employers who couldn’t see the person for his or her perceived ‘problem.’
This prompted Phillip Davies to say in a commons debate on the minimum wage and employment opportunities this week ‘Given that these people cannot be as productive in their work as someone who has not got a disability and given that the employer was going to have to pay them the same they would take on the person who was going to be more productive.’
Where do you start when it comes to hacking your way through such a thicket of prejudice? Would, for example Stephen Hawking have been more productive a physicist is he hadn’t been struck in that pesky wheelchair; has the requirement for employers to hire on merit and make reasonable adaptations to help workers with disabilities passed people like the honourable member for Shipley by?
Condemnation of Philip Davies remarks came swiftly with Labour’s Anne Begg calling his comments ‘outrageous and unacceptable’ and Sophie Corlett of MIND saying that it was a ‘preposterous suggestion’ that someone with a mental health problem should accept less than the minimum wage in order to ‘get their foot in the door with an employer.’
Phillip Davies also faced criticism from his own side of the house with fellow Tory Edward Leigh challenging him during the debate to ‘Forget for the moment there is a minimum wage. Why should a disabled person work for less than £5.93 an hour? It is not that much is it?’ A Conservative Party spokesperson later told the BBC that Mr Davies comments did not ‘reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect government policy.’
While it is to be welcomed that the Conservative Party has chosen to distance itself from the intemperate remarks made by one obscure backbencher I’m not at all sure that this means David Cameron has made his party any nicer; just that most people aren’t that nasty to start with whatever their political affiliations. For all the clumsiness of his expression of them Mr Davies views mark him out as a recognisable Tory type.
The sort of conservative for whom the idea of people pooling a portion of their resources to be used for the collective good through the welfare state is an assault on individual liberty. In their simplistic view of the world the poor or anyone experiencing difficulties is simply not trying hard enough; to them empathy might as well be a brand of aftershave.
Even though they are marginalised at the moment one day soon the likes of Phillip Davies might hold the future of the coalition in their hands. The Tories have never been squeamish when it comes to dumping leaders who start to stumble, one bad run and David Cameron might find himself having to play to a gallery of people who see the world as something to be hammered into the narrow template of their prejudices to survive.
There is, if they’re sharp enough to capitalise on it an advantage in this for the opposition. This week Ed Milliband announced that he was ending Labour’s tolerance for irresponsible behaviour at the top and bottom of British society; from now on Labour is going to be the party of the ‘grafters’.
How much of this was based in a genuine commitment to return Labour to its roots as a party for working people and how much was just another attempt to give his failing leadership some kind of recognisable direction is open to debate. One thing though it crystal clear, at any moment the ‘grafters’ he seeks to represent could find themselves joining the ranks of the ‘vulnerable’ through economic, social or medical circumstances beyond their control.
Contrary to popular prejudice the disabled, the mentally ill and the long term unemployed do want to work and to enjoy the independence that goes with earning your own living. The Labour Party should be in their corner, fighting to build a welfare state that helps people to help themselves and a minimum wage that gives everyone a fair day’s pay for doing a fair day’s work.