Learning disabilities and the minimum wage debate

Why people with learning disabilities should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage


Sorry, I lied when I said I wouldn’t stay on my political high horse for very long. I don’t think it’s my fault though, society keeps giving me the ammunition to write and to show how disability policy and disability rights have SUCH  a long way to go.


There are around 1.4 million people in the UK with a learning disability and a mere fraction of them are in employment. So you’d think the Government would be doing everything they could to initiate schemes where these individuals could participate in work, volunteering to gain valuable experience and generally soaking up a wealth of first hand, useable knowledge. There is a charity near us called Earthworks which is run for disabled and disadvantaged people. They grow plants, vegetables, create items out of wood, learn amazing skills about business and then sell all their produce at markets around the county. But it’s a charity. As an organisation, they gain nothing from the government. I would absolutely love Jude to be part of Earthworks or something similar once he reaches sixteen (only five years away!) as so many disabled people, once they have left school, have this massive void in their lives that leads their brain to deteriorate rapidly. Imagine having nothing to stimulate your mind. It would personally drive me insane.


What this article above points out is that pay rates are the main issue when it comes to employing disabled people. It suggests they aren’t worth the minimum wage (this year reaching £7.05 in April for 21-25 year olds and £7.50 for 25 ) because their work rate is slower and they can’t do some of the more complex tasks involved in many businesses.  The writer states that companies are not charities and shouldn’t be expected to take people on who cannot give the strongest output within their working hours.


A couple of years ago in 2014, Lord David Freud (Sigmunds great grandson) was placed temporarily in the spotlight for this monumental conversation:

Asked to Lord Freud:

“I have a number of mental damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work…but you can’t find people who are willing to pay the minimum wage. How do you deal with those sorts of cases?”


Lord Freud’s response: “I know exactly what you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage, and I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally.”


Needless to say the response to this conversation was immense with the Conservatives being titled “the nasty party” due to the apparent thoughtless-ness and objectifying of people with learning disabilities.


Here are my thoughts on this. I’ll keep it brief.

  • There are plenty of menial jobs that non disabled people do yet these individuals are not subjected to the undermining of their abilities or worth. Factory workers for example, fruit pickers, shelf stackers.
  • Why does the government not fund more schemes to help disabled people get into work and to find these less demanding roles that they can take on. It would help companies to fill jobs that typically have a high turn over plus it will benefit the economy as well as the individuals self-worth and confidence.
  • I kind of understand where this writer is coming from. I get that she is just looking for a way of helping people find work but I think the way she is suggesting disabled people are less worthy because of their ability to work in a particular way is undermining. It’s important to find work that suits learning disabled people but it’s equally as important to remember that companies need to make money. Don’t bite my head off here but her rationale makes sense in a non-sensical, entirely noxious kind of way.
  • One of the biggest worries in this scenario must be the possibility of disabled people being taken advantage of in a tyrannical, task-master-esque way. Here you have someone completely vulnerable but desperate for praise, desperate for some sort of independence and influence in their own lives. You could seriously overwork and exploit this sort of person if you had that temperament. Many disabled people do not have able thinking, role models in the background, leading them in a direction of self-sufficiency and financial affluence.


I think for me this final point is the one that highlights most alarmingly how carefully we must tread if this sort of legislation were ever to pass. I honestly hope it never does.


What are your views?





Spectrum Sunday


  1. Suzanne Eaton 07/03/2017

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