A senior Conservative backbencher has come to the defence of the party’s embattled Welfare Minister Lord Freud, insisting that the minimum wage was having a detrimental impact on disabled people’s chances of finding work.
Jackie Doyle-Price, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, wrote on Twitter: “Anyone who denies that the minimum wage is a barrier to employment for the less able is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
But her comments led Labour to claim that incident showed “the nasty party” is back.
“Yet another senior Tory has joined Lord Freud in attacking disabled people and disability charities, supporting his suggestion that some disabled people are worth less than the minimum wage,” said Labour’s spokeswoman for the disabled Kate Green.
“It is David Cameron who is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks Lord Freud should still be in his job.
“It is disgraceful that these views continue to go unchallenged in the Conservative Party. When is the Prime Minister going to take action?
“The mask is slipping from David Cameron's Conservatives. The nasty party is back.”
Labour is demanding Lord Freud comes to Parliament to explain his controversial suggestion that some disabled workers are “not worth” the minimum wage.
The Conservative peer has been allowed to remain in his job after apologising for the comment, which sparked furore among disability charities and was branded “offensive” by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
But he has been withdrawn from scheduled frontbench duties in the House of Lords today, in a move which Labour said indicated that he does not enjoy the “full confidence” of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said it was “unacceptable” for Lord Freud to remain in his post.
In a letter to the PM, she demanded to know whether Mr Cameron had spoken to the peer before giving him “a clean bill of health”, and whether any work had been done by Government departments on proposals to allow disabled people to be employed at below the £6.50-an-hour minimum wage.
Lord Freud was recorded at a fringe meeting of last month's Conservative Party conference responding to a Tory councillor who suggested that people with mental health problems may be unable to work because employers are unwilling to pay them the statutory minimum.
He replied: “You make a really good point about the disabled… There is a group - and I know exactly who you mean - where actually, as you say, they're not worth the full wage and actually I'm going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it's working, can we actually...”
Mr Cameron flatly disowned the peer's remarks when ambushed by Labour leader Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions and later ordered him to apologise amid opposition calls for his head.
In a statement last night, Lord Freud offered “a full and unreserved apology”, adding: “I was foolish to accept the premise of the question. To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else.
“I care passionately about disabled people. I am proud to have played a full part in a Government that is fully committed to helping disabled people overcome the many barriers they face in finding employment."
Mr Clegg said Lord Freud's comments had “cause huge offence", telling LBC radio: "I think what was so offensive to people... was when he used this word 'worth' and he said some people with disabilities weren't worth the minimum wage. I think that is what has, quite rightly, touched a raw nerve because it's making a comment about someone's individual value."
The Deputy Prime Minister said the peer's comments were “deeply distressing and offensive to people”.
But he added: “That shouldn't stop any of us having a discussion and, frankly, a difficult discussion - because some of these issues are difficult - to get more people with disabilities and with other disadvantages in life into the workplace.”Reuse content