The welfare reform minister Lord Freud is facing growing calls to resign from the Government after apparently suggesting that some groups of disabled people are “not worth” the minimum wage.
The Conservative peer has apologised “unreservedly” for the comments, but he has come under fire from charities, senior Tories, members of the public and even David Cameron himself after Ed Miliband read them out during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Esther McVey, the Tory employment minister, condemned Lord Freud’s words outright as “wrong”, saying they would “haunt him”.
She told BBC2’s Daily Politics: “I cannot justify those words. We have the minimum wage, everybody has the minimum wage, we have done a lot to support people with disability.
“He was thinking out loud,” she added. “He will have to explain himself, but as a member of that team, and a Government minister, minimum wage for all and we must support disabled people.”
The Tory MP Mark Garnier told LBC radio that Lord Freud’s suggestion that some disabled people “who want to” could work for £2 an hour was “unacceptable”.
Asked if Lord Freud should be sacked, Mr Garnier said: “If I were in David Cameron's position and there was a minister who came up and said something that was proclaiming that there were two different classes of people because of their disability or otherwise, then I would find that completely unacceptable.
“And if that was the case then I would sack that person.”
Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive at deafblind charity Sense, said: “The Government needs to be focusing on how to help more disabled people into work, not making offensive remarks about slashing their salaries. Lord Freud needs to explain his comments as a matter of urgency as these comments are far from befitting of his role as Welfare Minister.”
Listen to Lord Freud's comments about disabled people
Clare Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, said: “Suggesting that some people should be paid at below the minimum wage - the level that society has decided is the very minimum that anyone should expect - is deeply saddening and ill-informed.”
Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap, told BBC Radio 4's World At One that he was “shocked” by Lord Freud's comments: “We fundamentally disagree with what he is proposing, which is that disabled people should be paid less than other workers, less than the minimum wage, because they have a disability.
“I think he needs to very seriously consider his position after making these comments.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “The views expressed by Lord Freud are completely unacceptable. The Liberal Democrats are proud to have raised the minimum wage repeatedly in Government and will resist any attempt to cut it for anybody, not least the disabled.”
Challenging Mr Cameron in the Commons, Mr Miliband jibed that the “nasty party is back”.
And after Lord Freud issued his statement, a Labour Party spokesman said: “This attempt at an apology is not the end of the matter. Lord Freud claims he merely accepted 'the premise of the question' but it was he who said some disabled people are 'not worth the full wage' and it was he who suggested paying people just £2 an hour. In fact he said he would go away to look at this issue, suggesting that this Government would consider it.
“Someone holding these views shouldn't be in government.”
Downing Street confirmed that the Government's policy was that there should be no exceptions to the right to the national minimum wage.Reuse content