In 1997 the Blair government, to their credit, reversed 5 years of Conservative feet dragging and introduced the minimum wage. This policy, at its now slightly inflated but still chronically too low rate, is a basic safety net for paid workers.
Hynd’s Blog has consistently called for the advancement of the minimum wage to match that calculated as the ‘living wage’ – the minimum amount it is deemed to be able to have a reasonable standard of living off.
Today though the paper’s are not filled with the argument for increasing the minimum wage to match a ‘living wage’ but instead, the idea of some people being able to earn less than the minimum wage – an idea which Hynd’s Blog is not immediately and unconditionally opposed to.
Lord Freud, the Conservative Welfare Minister, has been thrown into the heart of this debate when a recording of him saying, “There is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage” was released.
In short, he suggests that certain disabled people are ‘not worth’ the meager £3.79 (for under 18s) that stands as the current minimum wage.
Moving this debate though beyond the despicable language that suggests you can assess the ‘worth’ of an individual there is a pertinent question to ask around whether or not exceptions should be made to minimum wage legislation – like for example the system they have in New Zealand.
I would personally advocate for a system where an individual employee could apply for an exception to the national minimum wage that is then assessed by a government agency so they can continue working in a job that they are perhaps good at but cannot perform at the speed or efficiency of other workers.
An example might be an adult with learning disabilities who works slowly and methodically at a certain task benefiting greatly from the social interaction, the responsibilities of work and the limited financial independence of a reduced salary but who works too slowly for a commercial employer to feel they can justify paying a minimum wage.
This opt out clause could easily be supported through an existing financial top up scheme comparable to that ‘disability premium’ income support to ensure the employee is protected whilst the employer does not lose out.
With this in mind, it is worth also examining the politics of the current uproar. Lord Freud’s comments were unacceptable and as such he needs to apologise. But, equally, the nature and severity of the attack from Labour on this issue only serves as party political point scoring and does little to add to the social policy question that the Conservative Cllr and Lord Freud were addressing – what is best form of legal protection disabled workers whose output is partially effected by their disability?
I don’t have the answer to this and certainly not the research to back up the above idea but it would be interested to get a discussion going – something unlikely to happen in the current media hyperbole.
Full text of Lord Freud’s apology: