Paying off the disabled

June 22, 2011

Howls of righteous outrage greeted Philip Davies’ proposal that the disabled should be able to work for less than minimum wage. For once, the righteousness was indeed righteous; the implication of the proposal is that the labour of the disabled is worth less than that of the able-bodied, and so they’re less likely to be hired if the price for that labour of less worth is below the minimum wage.

Naturally, in the implacably divided political blogosphere, outrage was met with outrage. The attitude of the Right was broadly that if the disabled were only able to get jobs when people paid them below the minimum wage, then they should bloody well be able to take jobs below the minimum wage. Davies’ comments were interpreted in the context of a broader objection of the Right to the minimum wage, which is that it excludes from the labour market those whose labour is worth less than it. This objection has the advantage of being true. What it doesn’t imply, however, is that any particular subsection of society should be singled out as being less likely to capable of selling their labour at or above the minimum.

Let me tell you what will happen if this proposal goes through. If an employer is choosing between two prospective employees of equal ability, one of which happens to be disabled, they’ll be more likely to employ the disabled one. Good, say the Right, more disabled people working. However, the reason why they employ the disabled person is that they can pay them less than the minimum wage. If the choice was between two able-bodied people of equal ability, the employer would be willing to pay the minimum wage for the same labour. If this proposal goes through, then disabled people who otherwise would’ve been able to sell their labour for the minimum wage if it didn’t exist would have an artificial lowering of the value of their labour relative to the same quality of labour when sold by an able-bodied person. It would serve to depress the price of disabled labour. It would be a state intervention which results in an unfair market distortion.

Either be opposed to the minimum wage, or be in favour of it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t introduce artificial distortions into the labour market on a sectional basis; only misery can result.


6 Responses to “Paying off the disabled”

  1. Lee said

    If the disabled person is as good as the able-bodied person then they will both be competing as equals for the same job. The people Mr. Davies is referring to are disabled people who can never compete because their productivity is so much lower due to their disabilities. What do you want them to do? Stay at home and never participate in society?

    ‘Either be opposed to the minimum wage, or be in favour of it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t introduce artificial distortions into the labour market on a sectional basis; only misery can result.’

    I think this statement is missing the point; the suggestion that Mr. Davies is making to allow some disabled people to opt out of being paid the minimum wage will give them a comparative advantage over other groups of people; neither of the other two options mentioned will.

    • Adam Bell said

      But how do you identify those disabled people who wouldn’t be able to get a minimum wage job? In practice, you’d end up lowering the wages for all disabled people in order to get more of them into the job market. This isn’t fair.

      • Lee said

        You’d identify them, because like myself, they will have been unemployed for a long period of time. As I imagine the scheme working someone would have had to have been unemployed for at least five years…after this length of time being socially isolated you need a job for medical reasons…not for the money. Believe me!

  2. Adam Bell said

    Ah, but that’s not what Davies said. He said it’s something they should be able to do, without referring to the time period required before they could do it. Your suggestion is far more reasonable, but I must ask, why not extend it to all long-term unemployed?

  3. Lee said

    Yes, I would include all long-term unemployed people, and possibly even specific geographical areas with high levels of long-term unemployment.

  4. Adam Bell said

    I don’t think I would object to that – my main objection was to the broad-brush approach Davies took, which failed to recognise the complexities associated with this issue.

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