Philip Davies MP walked in to the House of Commons on Friday a concerned man. Having paid a visit to a local association of Mind, the mental health charity, he was worried the Government was not doing enough to help those with the ability to work find jobs. He had listened to the testimony of those struggling with mental illness on top of a stagnant economy, certain that prejudices amongst employers hampered their chances, even before the interview stage. Mr Davies was so concerned he took their plight to parliament, but on his way there something incredible happened. He became convinced that the problem was not the swinging cuts to incapacity benefit, cuts that Mind themselves, in a survey earlier this year, showed were already damaging to the mental health of claimants, nor was it a stagnant economy that means in his home county of Yorkshire there are now 14 applicants for every vacant position, but rather the problem was burdensome government regulation on employers.
So he stood up in parliament and said for those with disabilities the minimum wage to be waved. More specifically, he said disabled individuals should have the right to to undercut other job seekers by offering their labour for less. This call for the effective abolition of the minimum wage principle comes from the party that opposed it (first from the front, now from the flank) and surprises no-one.
Though 10 Downing St distanced themselves from his comments, saying “[we] would reject any suggestion for disabled people to be able to opt out of the national minimum wage.”, this Coalition has the same capacity for incredible perceptive somersaults. Like Davies the cabinet ‘hear’ the demand across the country for well paid meaningful work, but they do not listen. They simply translate it into the language of individual choice and greater business freedom to discriminate.
The problem remains not the competitiveness of those seeking work, but the continued existence of discrimination against mental illness. Discrimination that is promoted by the continued painting of benefit claimants as scroungers ‘ripping off society’, and by a cuts agenda that will do little but decimate vital mental health services.
The Tories always seem willing to listen to problems, but it’s time they started listening to solutions.