Elected Conservative Candidate Controversy over Lower Minimum Wage for Disabled People

At a Hastings and Rye hustings on Thursday, Conservative candidate Sally Ann Hart defended the idea that disabled people should be paid less than minimum wage, as they “don’t understand money”. 

Hart was elected as MP in Hastings and Rye in last Thursday’s general election, with a majority of more than 4,000. She is also facing two party investigations over alleged anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but Boris Johnson has opted not to suspend her.

She responded to an audience member’s question by saying that there should be a “therapeutic exemption” to paying disabled people minimum wage. She implied that

“The happiness they have about working” is more important than money, which, she said, “some people with learning difficulties don’t understand about”.

Her comments caused uproar in the audience. One member could be heard shouting “shame” and “how patronising”. Another pair were shocked at what they regarded as the “othering” of disabled people.

In a letter to Hart from Little Gate Farm, a Sussex based training provider for disabled people, the consensus was clear.

“If the amount of work you put in amounts to minimum wage whether you have a learning disability or not, you should get minimum wage”.

The backlash on Twitter went further. David Ellis described Hart as proposing to “enslave disabled people”, whilst a satirical tweet from another user unpicked the idea of “therapeutic exemption” and “happiness” stating that these are “not recognised as currency” in everyday transactions.

Ms Hart’s views were based on those put forward by Rosa Monckton in an article published in the Spectator in 2017. Monckton had set up a charity called Team Domenica, named after her daughter with Down’s Syndrome, designed to help disabled people access more employment opportunities. 

Monckton wrote that 1.4 million people in the UK have a learning disability, yet 1.3 million of them are unemployed. She argued the rising minimum wage was “the single thing that makes it most difficult to get people with learning difficulties into work”.

A commenter agreed with Ms Monckton’s stance, saying

“the well meaning but ideologically driven have legislated against economic realities”.

Lowering the minimum wage for disabled people would increase the profitability of employing people with disabilities for employers, and therefore potentially increase the number of disabled people in employment. 

People have argued however that the ideological basis underpinning lowering minimum wage is one that considers disabled people of less value as people and workers.

Image: The Guardian