WORK & PENSIONS – LORD FREUD AND THE MINIMUM WAGE – 28 October 2014

[The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Harper): ... Lord Freud’s mistake was to accept the premise of the question. The man who asked the question is the father of a disabled daughter. He was concerned about her ability in the past to get work. It was an honest question asked in an honest way. Lord Freud himself accepts that he expressed himself clumsily and that he had offended people. He apologised for that when the remarks were drawn to his attention. Any reasonable person would accept his apology.]

Dr Julian Lewis: I am not an expert in the field, but it has been drawn to my attention that Lord Freud was not the first person to make such remarks, however poorly expressed. The Guardian, back in February 2000, called for an "urgent revision" of the rules on the minimum wage to enable what the Guardian called "low output" disabled workers to be exempt from minimum wage legislation. At the time, Mencap stated that while it otherwise supported the minimum wage, an exemption should be allowed, because:

"Most people with a learning disability want to work".

That was not some terrible statement, but an attempt to get people who cannot be as productive as a fully able person into work where otherwise no job would be offered to them. Cannot hon. Members see that?

[Mr Harper: My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. That was indeed the policy of Mencap at the time. It has stated that the policy has now changed, but it was Mencap policy at the time. I therefore think that some of the outrage being expressed is not genuine.]