Opinion Social Affairs

Monckton’s ‘therapeutic exemption’ means the exploitation of disabled people

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Aristocrat Rosamond Monckton with her daughter, Domenica, and Earl Spencer and his children

In the Spectator Rosamond Monckton argues that people with learning disabilities should be exempt from the minimum wage, in order to increase their employment prospects. I find her attitude naive at best, and her reasoning bizarre. I should state that I feel sympathy for her; her daughter has Down’s Syndrome and like any responsible parent she is attempting to secure her daughter the best possible future. Nonetheless, this does not alter the fact that she is advocating exploitation.

I should start by stating that the minimum wage has never been enough to live on; far from preventing working poverty, it legitimised it. The Conservative Party has rebranded it the ‘living wage’ but the current rate still falls below an actual living wage. In her article, Monckton defends David Freud, who infamously declared that disabled people should be able to work for £2 an hour (oddly enough she omits this figure from the article). Monckton describes a reduction in wages as “a therapeutic exemption”. It strikes me as Orwellian that she is equating exploitation with physiotherapy or counselling.

Monckton seems genuinely shocked by people’s reactions (“even to raise the subject of exempting disabled workers from the minimum wage, letting employers pay them less, is to be considered brutish and inhumane.”)  Has it occurred to her, that paying people less money (when they already have a higher cost of living), for doing the same work as other people, is brutish and inhumane?

If nothing else this suggestion is pointless.  Attempts to make disabled people more financially attractive to prospective employers has already been tried with the discredited Work Programme. Employers were paid subsidises for employing people, with the most generous payouts going to those who hired former Incapacity Benefit claimants. The results were pitiful, and it was quietly dropped.

I cannot say this disaster surprised me. The idea that someone like myself (a severely visually-impaired person with multiple musculoskeletal disabilities, severe anxiety and depression) would be attractive to a prospective employer, just because I agreed to take a pay-cut of 50 pence an hour, is laughable. No reduction in salary would change the fact that I am bed-bound more often than not. It would not compensate for the employer having to increase their insurance premiums, having to pay constant sick-pay (for me a simple cold results in severe bodily pain) and pay for adaptions.

Another flaw in Monckton’s argument is the fact that the minimum wage was introduced in the late 1990s, yet I cannot find any evidence that this resulted in a surge of disabled people getting laid off. Furthermore, women are paid less than men, but this has not resulted in the shattering of the glass ceiling (and no-one has dared suggest that this helps womens’ employment prospects).

Monckton talks of dignity, but ignores the primary reason, that the overwhelming majority of the working population have jobs; money. This is not surprising; her late father (to give him his full name) was Major-General Gilbert Walter Riversdale Monckton, 2nd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley CB, OBE, MC, Knight of Malta. She was also close friends with Princess Diana. I am therefore sceptical that she is familiar with the concept of living hand to mouth. She fails to see that paying people less money, throughout their working lives, will result in such hardship as rent arrears, lack of food, and hiding from debt-collectors.

She seems to think employees are unreasonable for asking for a proper wage (“on the whole, employers are not charities”). Is she seriously suggesting that employers pay people out of kindness rather than in exchange for labour?

This underpins her reasoning; for her and David Freud a job is not a means of survival, it is a means of getting out of the house and passing the time. Do some people enjoy their jobs? Absolutely. But this does not change the fact that we all have bills to pay, and for most people, dipping into the Trust Fund is not an option.


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