Look Left – Tory MP says disabled should work for below minimum wage

A Conservative MP sparked outrage today by saying employers should be allowed to hire disabled people on less than the minimum wage, £5.93 an hour; Shamik Das reports.

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• A Conservative MP sparked outrage today by saying employers should be allowed to hire disabled people on less than the minimum wage – £5.93 an hour.

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, also said this second-class status should be applied to people with learning difficulties and mental health problems. He made the remarks in a Commons debate on the Employment Opportunities Bill, prompting anger from opposition politicians and charities alike.

Anne Begg, chair of the work and pensions select committee, said:

“These comments are utterly outrageous and unacceptable. To suggest that disabled people should be treated as second class citizens is shocking and shows just what a warped world some Tories demonstrate they inhabit.”

While Sophie Corlett of Mind added:

“It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.

“People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do.”

On Left Foot Forward tonight, Jos Bell points out that Davies’s remarks and attitudes are not as isolated as we’d like to think, and provide a much needed wake-up call.

His remarks may not have come as too much of a surprise to seasoned Philip Davies watchers, however. He has a record of outlandish, outrageous views, many of them closer in spirit and substance to the BNP than David Cameron’s Conservatives.

Only last month, he described Britain’s contribution to international aid as “stark raving mad”. More Griffin-esque were his remarks that there was “nothing offensive” about ‘blacking up’.

He said:

“Why it is so offensive to black up your face… I have never understood this.”

The Tory leadership have distanced themselves from his remarks today, yet a Tory MP he remains – for now.

• Earlier this week, at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed over the treatment of cancer patients.

The Labour leader told the House that as a result of the Welfare Reform Bill, the government would stop contributory-based employment allowance for recovering cancer patients after one year – resulting in 7,000 of them losing £94 per week.

He was supported in his claims by MacMillan Cancer Support, whose spokesman Mike Hobday said:

“We think it was a really important issue for Ed Miliband to raise. It is quite clear the government haven’t realised it will have a big impact on cancer patients who would like to work but aren’t yet ready to do so…

“There are 7,000 people this will apply to. Those who are recovering will be hit, those who want to work but are not quite ready yet because of the treatment they receive – they will be penalised to the tune of £100 a week.”

MacMillan’s chief executive Ciarán Devane added:

“Many cancer patients will lose this crucial benefit simply because they have not recovered quickly enough. The majority want to return to work as it can represent a milestone in their recovery and a return to normality, in addition to the obvious financial benefits.

“This proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill will have a devastating impact on many cancer patients. We are urging the government to change their plans to reform key disability benefits to ensure cancer patients and their families are not pushed into poverty.”

In response to this evidence, there followed a vicious right-wing backlash against Hobday, a former Labour Parliamentary candidate, and MacMillan, with wild accusations of a conspiracy between Labour and the charity. Utter nonsense of course, especially when you consider that not only MacMillan but 30 – yes, thirty – cancer charities oppose the government on these cuts, as revealed by Political Scrapbook.

As PSBook say:

“Are we to believe [all] these charities, rather than representing the interests of cancer patients, are pursuing some form of party political vendetta?!”

• Moving on from welfare reform to the health reforms, the government unveiled its long-awaited changes to the Health and Social Care Bill on Tuesday.

It followed the culmination of the 12-week “listening exercise” (pdf) and the publication of the NHS Future Forum report – yet despite the u-turns announced by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley, the public remain sceptical, according to an ITV News/ComRes poll this week.

It found:

• 56 per cent do not believe he will keep his word on the NHS;

• 51% agree the Tory party’s plans for the NHS are just a way to privatise parts of the service;

• 54% disagree that the NHS is safe in David Cameron’s hands;

• 49% think the government should scrap the current proposals for NHS reform and start from scratch.

In response to the poll findings, shadow health secretary John Healey said:

“After a year of confusion and mishandling of the health service, this poll shows the public know they can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS. People see the prime minister breaking his promises and have rumbled his plans to open up all parts of the NHS to private companies.”

Responding to the substance of the reforms, meanwhile, Liberal Democrat activist and executive member of the Social Liberal Forum, Dr Prateek Buch, wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“Reading through the government’s response to its ‘listening exercise’ on NHS reforms, three things stand out.

“Firstly, it’s clear that the reforms proposed by Andrew Lansley in the Health and Social Care Bill will be significantly amended, in response to the grave misgivings expressed by both healthcare professionals and Liberal Democrats at our conference in March…

“Secondly, it’s clear that in its response to the NHS Future Forum report, the coalition has left some questions unanswered.

“A key demand of both clinical professionals and Lib Dems was that the duty-based role of the Secretary of State be restored; although the government announced yesterday that this role would revert to having ‘ultimate accountability for securing the provision of services’, it remains unclear whether this amounts to retaining the secretary of State’s statutory ‘duty to provide’ a comprehensive and universal service enshrined in the NHS since its foundation…

“Thirdly, yesterday’s pronouncements will not be the yardstick by which the NHS reforms will be judged. To fully assess the extent of the turnaround, we must await the amended legislation as it returns for parliamentary scrutiny at committee stage.

“Beyond this, we must judge the coalition government’s record on healthcare not just on procedural and legislative details, but on the outcomes these bring about on the ground…

“Mr Lansley’s position is either fatally weakened or immensely strengthened depending on who you speak to – either way his reforms will be diluted not ditched, and the Tories have huge questions to answer over the shambolic way they’ve handled the politics of NHS reform.

“As for the Lib Dems, Baroness Williams and Nick Clegg have been very clear – the amendments to the bill reflect most of the demands we made at conference, and can be seen as a clear victory for the party.”

Progressive of the week:

Northern Ireland local government minister Alex Attwood, who this week called on councils to put aside their sectarian differences and practice a “new order of politics”. He issued the warning amid claims that relations between elected members on councils like Limavady and Belfast City had significantly deteriorated.

Attwood told the Belfast Telegraph:

“I get disappointed when anybody clings to the past… We need a new order of politics. That needs to prevail and deepen in all political institutions in the North. When people rely upon majorities, where parties try to do local deals to frustrate the popular wish, I do not agree with that.”

There is more on Mr Attwood in the Week Outside Westminster below.

Regressive of the week:

LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, who appeared on the BBC’s This Week programme last night and said weekly bin collections were a bigger priority than overseas aid. Yes, you read it correctly, that’s exactly what he said – that he’d rather the government broke its promise to the world’s poorest than failed to collect his garbage.

For a defence of overseas aid, in particular aid to India, see this Wednesday’s Left Foot Forward article from Anas Sarwar MP, a member of the international development select committee.

Evidence of the week:

The retail sales figures (pdf), released yesterday, that showed a 1.4 per cent drop in May, more than reversing the 1.1 per cent rise in April, when sales were boosted by a number of special factors, namely the good weather, the timing of Easter and the Royal Wedding.

Left Foot Forward’s Tony Dolphin explained:

“Putting aside the latest monthly volatility, what is striking is that sales have increased by just 0.2 per cent over the last year.

“The biggest factor behind disappointing sales is higher inflation – particularly for food and energy. If other factors were mainly responsible, then we would expect both sales volumes and sales values to be weak. But, sales values are up 3.8 per cent over the last year – a little below par, but no worse.

“In fact, given that average earnings have increased by around 2 per cent over the last year, and even allowing for an increase in the number of people in work and earning, what is most surprising is how much faster than household incomes sales are growing.

“This means one of two things. Either consumers are cutting back on other spending – on services which they regard as less essential – in response to higher food and energy prices, or they are saving less and borrowing more.”

Today, there was further bleak news for the high street, with a survey in this morning’s FT (£) showing almost a quarter of main high streets failing:

“In 83 towns, ranging from Bootle to Dunstable, the spread of empty shops has begun a ‘downward spiral’ on high streets as consumers rein in spending amid fears for jobs and the economy…

“Another 42 of the 365 retail centres surveyed are deemed to be ‘degenerating’. More than a third are categorised as stable.”

Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:


As Carwyn Jones formally launched the Welsh government’s legislative programme, Plaid Cymru spent the week assessing where it goes from here having found itself out of power following May’s Assembly elections. Writing for the Western Mail, former Plaid MP Adam Price, still seen as a potential future leader, argued that the party had “slipped into reverse gear”.

He said:

“We behave – to borrow an analogy from another context – like ‘closet nationalists’, frightened of people’s reactions to who we really are and what we believe. This convinces no-one and leaves us looking weak and even devious, which is worse.

“It’s time we came out and said it: our dream is Welsh independence. For that dream ever to become reality then the biggest problem we must solve is economic.

“As Gerry Holtham argues in an extremely perceptive piece in the current edition of the Welsh-language monthly Barn, we should place our economic policy four square at the forefront of our political programme.”

On the party leadership, and Iuean Wyn Jones’s plans to step aside, he added:

“A leadership election can be a source of renewal, but in the party’s current state I fear it might be something of a distraction. The problems the party faces are much deeper than one of personnel.”

The Plaid leader himself used an interview with BBC Wales to warn his party against falling back to a “core values” strategy and that it needed to widen its appeal across Wales.

Meanwhile, Welsh universities lobbied to be allowed to charge up to £9,000 a year for tuition. They did this as the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales rejected bids to do so without substantial changes to their plans to encourage poorer teenagers to enter higher education.

Education minister Leighton Andrews responded:

“We’ve made bold decisions regarding the future of tuition fees in Wales which have been widely welcomed and supported. Higher education should be on the basis of the individual’s potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay.

“On that basis I believe the new system we’re putting in place is the fairest and most equitable we’ve ever had. It is imperative that we stick up for our students and help them wherever we can.”


The UK government announced the Scotland Bill will now include additional financial powers for the Scottish government and parliament, including the ability to borrow more money, issue bonds to access cash from capital markets, and protect itself from sudden changes in spending levels.

Scottish secretary Michael Moore argued:

“Along with other measures in the Scotland Bill, these proposals will allow Scotland to shape the economy we want and generate the jobs we need. They will do so within the framework of a strong and stable UK.”

Whilst welcoming the move as a step in the right direction, Scotland’s finance secretary, John Swinney, explained:

“We will be providing the Secretary of State for Scotland with six papers outlining this government’s proposed changes to the Scotland Bill. We will be presenting the UK government with our papers on borrowing powers, the Crown Estate, excise duty, an enhanced role in Europe, corporation tax and broadcasting in due course.”

Elsewhere, Left Foot Forward reported calls by Minister for Parliamentary Business, Bruce Crawford, for reforms to the way Holyrood operated amidst fears the Parliament simply isn’t geared up for majority, single-party government.

Scottish Labour’s business manager, Paul Martin, argued:

“These suggested reforms don’t change the fact that by dominating every committee and then electing one of their own as Presiding Officer the SNP are already acting as judge, jury and executioner.”

Northern Ireland:

The minister responsible for local government, Alex Attwood, called for an end to the sectarian divisions that have emerged on a number of local authorities, and said councillors should embrace a “new order of politics”.

Mr Attwood told the Belfast Telegraph:

“While I do not have any time for political intolerance I do have understanding for those that find some things difficult to accept. Local and central political leaders need to have the needs of victims more central in what they do and how they conduct themselves.”

Meanwhile, the Committee on the Administration of Justice published a critical report into the work of Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman, dubbing the body “not fit for purpose”.

Aideen Gilmore, deputy director of the CAJ, said the report had:

“…uncovered a range of very serious concerns and questions in relation to the efficiency, effectiveness, independence and transparency of the current office, which lead us to question whether the office is fit for purpose in relation to historic investigations.”

The Police Ombudsman’s Office responded by arguing the report:

“…does not include a balanced view of the issues surrounding the investigation of historical matters, nor reflect the structural changes implemented to allow the Office to deal with the doubling of historic cases in the past three years.”

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