Written by Steven McAvoy
Recent comments from Lord Freud suggesting that some people who have a disabilities could be paid less than the minimum wage have attracted condemnation and calls for him to resign.
The controversy erupted when Lord Freud, during a conversation with a Conservative Councillor around the issue of getting disabled people into work, said that:
Now, there is a small… there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they're not worth the full wage and actually I'm going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it's working can we actually…"
ENABLE Scotland has always campaigned for people who have a learning disability to be treated equally and we are concerned to hear opinions that suggest that people who have a learning disability may not be worth the same as their colleagues.
Whilst we recognise that barriers still exist which stop people who have a learning disability from entering employment, and are committed to challenging these, we cannot agree that the starting point for any discussion should be that the work of a disabled person can ever be worth less than the statutory minimum.
ENABLE Scotland members know better than anyone the positives that paid employment can bring and they also know how frustrating it can be to want to work but be unable to find a job. But this does not mean that we should allow the skills of disabled job seekers to be devalued.
Yes, people who have a learning disability do sometimes require some additional support in the workplace but figures also suggest that people with a learning disability are less likely to take time off work due to sickness and more likely to stay in their job.
It seems wholly unfair that once again the focus is largely on what a person who has a learning disability might not be able to do other than the positives that they could bring to an employer.
The reasons for high unemployment rates amongst disabled people are complex but it is clear to ENABLE Scotland that barriers into employment often don’t come from the nature of a person's disability but from society's perception of that disability.
People who have a learning disability only want the chance to be treated the same as everyone else when looking for a job and when they get one. We can never achieve this if we accept that a person's disability can make them of less value than anyone else.