Disabled people should be paid less than minimum wage? Jog on, Monckton.
I’m slightly past the zeitgeist on this piece, considering this zombie issue arose from its rightful grave for its annual bout of terrifying disabled people while I was away from home. Thankfully, it has yet to be buried again. Libby Purves [Times, paywall, image via @samrenke]felt the need to throw her malign hat in the ring. I can be topical and angry at the same time! Onwards, then, with everything that is wrong this this awful mess.
First, an introduction. Rosa Monckton is the founder of an organisation called Team Domenica and “has a daughter with Down’s syndrome” [Times], was “a close friend of Princess Diana” [BBC] and apparent floundering columnist for the Spectator with two articles to her name, the second of which was her vehicle for this latest atrocity: her claim that the minimum wage’s existence harms her daughter by denying her the “dignity that comes with work”.
Oh dear Gods, where do we even start?
Let’s start with Monckton herself, and her organisation. You would be hard-pressed to know this if you relied on the media for your information, but Monckton is literal aristocracy — she’s the daughter of a viscount. She also has extensive business interests including a Chief Executive role at Tiffany’s, and directorship of the holding company responsible for, for example, Goldsmith. If we were to rephrase this story, the headline could be: “Chief Executive of Tiffany’s wants to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage”. Not such a winning headline, is it? It’s absolutely no coincidence that the BBC decided to highlight her past-friendship with Princess Diana as apparently relevant to the story (and to add strength to her argument by implying Diana would approve, Edit: as pointed out by Kim Sauder), while utterly burying her extensive business interests. The opinions of an aristo on the minimum wage should be quite low on what people care about, which is why that aspect has been conveniently buried. “Business executive wants to pay employees less” is hardly news and is, in fact, the very disabled people (and many others) need the protection afforded by the Minimum Wage.
The structure of Team Domenica is also cause for alarm. I can find no mention of Domenica herself being involved in this organisation at all, which is very weird for an organisation set up, ostensibly, for her benefit. The complete exclusion of LDdx (‘Learning Disability’ is a contentious term, so I use ‘LDdx’ as shorthand for ‘people diagnosed with a learning disability’) people from this discussion will be a recurring theme later but, for now, note that Monckton has used her daughter’s name, image and disability to forward her own disgusting agenda. Monckton is exploiting her daughter for her own political and, quite possibly, financial gains.
Second, there’s how much the minimum wage is being — likely deliberately — misrepresented to make it easier to undermine. For the uninitiated, the UK mininum wage is, for over 25s and as of 06/03/16, £7.20 per hour. In her Spectator piece, Monckton justifies this undermining of a most basic protection thusly:
On the whole, employers are not charities, and it is difficult for them to employ people if their output amounts to a loss.
Note that the minimum wage is £7.20 per hour, not £7.20 per arbitrary unit of productivity. If you do an hour’s work, you get an hour’s pay. This has never been tied to productivity or profitability. What Monckton and her (universally able-bodied, obviously) supports are proposing would destroy the protection of minimum wage for everyone. This is nothing but an assault on worker’s rights using the disability rhetoric of “dignity” and “inclusion” as a prop.
Once the ‘minimum’ has been undercut and linked to productivity, wages will fall across the board. Non-disabled employees will be replaced with disabled employees who are ‘cheaper’, which will in turn force ablebodied people to work for less than minimum wage. Disabled people will then become unemployed again, because they have been undercut by the “more productive” able-bodied staff. Once you go under the minimum, it’s a race to the bottom.
Third, there’s the entire exclusion of LDdx people in this pseudo-debate, like the absent Domenica. A journalist from Radio 5 actually defended this ‘idea’ by stating that she had spoken to “3 mums of kids who struggle to understand money”. Nobody has even tried to find out what LDdx people think of their supposed saviours and their incredible ‘plan’. There is absolutely no excuse for this — it is pure ableism. It is based on the idea that LDdx people cannot understand or communicate their needs and desires. This is, of course, patently false and has been used throughout history (up until the modern day) to support absolutely atrocious treatment of people with all kinds of disabilities and impairments. It’s telling that when LDdx people directly challenged the supporters of this ‘idea’, they were universally ignored.
Lastly, there’s the ableism that permeates the whole mess. There’s the direct exclusion of LDdx people. There’s the centering of “parents” as some mystical authority on the needs and desires of disabled people and children. As a reminder, being the parent of a disabled person doesn’t make you an expert on disability and, when disabled people are talking, you sure as hell don’t get to speak for or over us.
However, the ableism goes deeper than this. It is not hyperbole to say that this whole mess raises questions about how we value a basic human life. A life without work — which disabled people are excluded from by societal and business practices, not the minimum wage — “lacks dignity”. Without being financially exploited and paid a pittance, we are doomed to “ life spent in the shadows, slumped on a sofa, eating the wrong sort of food, watching daytime television”. To these people, our lives are worthless if we aren’t employed. “A job, however basic, means usefulness”.
This is also the language and argument used in defence of the workhouse of old, as Andrew Fairbairn pointed out on Twitter. The workhouse was introduced to (p. 190) “encourage the industrious worker and discourage idleness and depravity”. Depravity is ye olde word for “eating the wrong sort of food”, and idleness is ye olde word for “watching daytime television slumped on a sofa”. The argument put forward by Monckton and her acolytes is that disabled — primarily LDdx, but it would move to us all eventually — people need to be exploited for our own good, and without the Beneficent Employer paying us less than can be survived on, our lives are ‘nothing but a burden’ (CN: nazi propoganda).
There is one final point I want to make. There is obviously a shortfall implied by paying someone less than the money they need to survive. Survival on minimum wage is already quite difficult in various parts of the country, so what happens when you are paid poverty (or worse) wages? It couldn’t possibly be that businesses want the state to subsidise their low pay (like with housing benefit, and so on)? Perish the thought.