Today, disabled people are being made to feel of little use or lazy, with all the publicity surrounding welfare reform, forcing “scroungers” back into work, and some portions of the media perpetuating myths about disabled benefit claimants being fraudsters. However, comments such as those made by Philip Davies in the Commons also do very little to dispel the notion that the disabled are worth less than others.
Anger has been spreading across the internet after news of his comments about people with disabilities and mental health problems. He thinks these groups are those most disadvantaged by the minimum wage.
Davies claimed that firms would be more likely to hire an able-bodied and more capable candidate over a disabled person who could instead be given the chance to work for below the minimum wage, to assess if they were worth the risk. After proving they would not be a problem to employ, they could then work up the “jobs ladder”, presumably then earning a fairer salary.
Davies’s attitude stinks of the backward anti-disabled rhetoric that so many have noticed an increase in over the last year. Nobody would think that it is OK to deny someone a job as a result of their sex, race or age, and the same should stand for disabled people, too. Being overlooked for work because of a disability is a difficult and saddening experience, but the idea that disabled people should be employed though not be paid equally is demeaning.
If firms were to do this, they would be taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable in society. And firms prepared to pay disabled workers below the minimum wage would also be unlikely to make adaptations to make their work environment suitable, enabling them get on with their job. It is also difficult and costly for disabled people to travel, which also would be unlikely to be taken into account by a firm stingy enough to scrimp on the disabled person’s wage.
People such as Davies encourage the spread of harmful attitudes towards disabled people. Radio and television discussions, in which small-minded people call in, suggesting: “If Stephen Hawking can work, why can’t they?” just make us feel of no use. Last month at the Hardest Hit March, several disabled marchers held placards that had messages about not being left behind for jobs. There’s nothing disabled people would like more than to be treated the same as everyone else. The views of Davies take us back to an earlier and less enlightened age. Little progress will be made until attitudes such as his are treated with the same worth he appears to accord disabled people.
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