The government’s welfare reform minister is facing calls to be sacked after suggesting that some disabled people should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage.
Lord Freud, seen as one of the architects of Conservative welfare reform policy, was recorded making the comments at a fringe event at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham.
He had been asked by a Conservative councillor about some of the “mentally damaged individuals” he worked with who “to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work”.
Lord Freud told him there was not currently a system for “kind of going below the minimum wage”.
A recording of his comments on the Politics Home website shows the peer adding: “Now, there is a small…there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean there, and actually as you say they are not worth the full wage and actually I’m going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, without distorting the thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it can be actually…”
Lord Freud’s comments led to him trending on Twitter yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, with many disabled people calling for him to be sacked.
Among them was presenter, broadcaster and writer Mik Scarlet, who said: “Its getting scary! Being #disabled in 21st C #UK gets more like it was in #Nazi Germany everyday. #untermensch #sacklordfreud.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) put out a call for disabled people to join a protest calling for Lord Freud to resign or be sacked, which will take place outside the Department for Work and Pensions’ Caxton House headquarters in Whitehall on Monday (20 October) at 12.30pm.
DPAC said the peer’s comments were “disgusting”, and added: “Freud is the architect of the government’s noxious welfare reform programme that is pushing disabled people off benefits and causing untold distress and misery, in too many cases leading to suicides and avoidable deaths.
“The policies Freud designed show utter contempt for disabled people. His latest comments made to a Tory councillor at a party conference fringe meeting confirm this.”
The WOWcampaign launched a petition calling for the peer to be sacked, because his comment was “prejudicial” and “reinforces the notion that disabled people are not able to contribute to society in the same way as others”.
Ian Jones, who launched the petition, said: “We cannot see how he could remain as a government minister in light of this extreme and unacceptably prejudicial opinion.”
And @thisisamy said: “On average, disabled people face £550/month extra costs because of disability. So how is it fair to even suggest paying LOWER wages?”
Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said there was a “crisis of disabled people’s poverty”, so “the very last thing we need is public statements suggesting disabled people could work for less than the minimum wage”.
She said: “This would just make poverty even more horrendous. We need from government a strategy to enable far more disabled people to get decent employment opportunities – starting with a rock-solid commitment to the minimum wage.”
She added: “We called on Lord Freud to withdraw the suggestion that some disabled people could work for less than the minimum wage.
“We are glad that he has apologised but are concerned that, despite this, there are still people who support this viewpoint,” including, she said, the Tory councillor who questioned Lord Freud at the party conference.
Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Kate Green, also called for Lord Freud to be sacked.
She said: “It is difficult to see how someone who holds views like those can remain in government.
“It is particularly shocking that he is a minister who has responsibility for decisions that affect millions of disabled people’s lives, and they can have no confidence in him.”
She added: “It is quite clear to me that we have a legally enforceable national minimum wage.
” It would be outrageous if disabled people were not entitled to the same rights under the law as everybody else.”
The Labour leader Ed Miliband used prime minister’s questions this week to attack the peer’s comments, telling David Cameron: “Surely someone holding those views cannot possibly stay in his government.
“They are not the words of someone who ought to be in charge of policy relating to disabled people.”
Cameron told him: “Of course disabled people should be paid the minimum wage… Those are not the views of the government, those are not the views of anyone in the government.
“The minimum wage is paid to everybody, disabled people included. I don’t need lectures from anyone about looking after disabled people.”
Lord Freud later offered a “full and unreserved apology”.
In a statement, he said: “I was foolish to accept the premise of the question. To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else.”
But he did win support for his original comments from the right-wing think-tank, the Adam Smith Institute.
Sam Bowman, the institute’s research director, said: “Lord Freud has been shamefully mistreated by Ed Miliband.
“His point was that the market value of some people’s wages is below the minimum wage.
“This is often true of the severely disabled and can have appalling consequences for their self-esteem and quality of life.
“Fixing this problem was the justification for Remploy, a government-funded firm that gave jobs to disabled people who could not find work elsewhere.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com