Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Monday, June 20, 2011
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."

(Also posted at Samizdata, with comments open.)