Report: Minimum Wage Condemns Down Syndrome Children to Life Without Work

Despite its good intentions, minimum wage legislation overwhelmingly harms many people with disabilities, condemning them to a life of unemployment, according to a recent report.

Writing for the Spectator, Rosa Monkton notes that of the approximately 1.4 million people with learning disabilities living in the UK, nearly 93% of them (1.3 million) are unemployed. According to Monkton, the most important factor behind the extraordinary statistic is minimum-wage legislation, which forces employers to pay all their employees—even those whose output is less—the same base wage.

“The single thing that makes it most difficult to get people with learning disabilities into work is the ratcheting up of the minimum wage,” Monkton contends, “which from 1 April goes up to £7.05 per hour if you are aged between 21 and 24, and £7.50 if you are older.”

Since employers are not charities, they cannot afford to hire people at a loss, which is what can happen when they are prohibited from employing some workers for a lower wage. Unable to scale wages according to people’s real productivity, even employers who would like to hire persons with disabilities often don’t for economic reasons.

Recent studies have shown, in fact, that minimum wage increases hurt unskilled workers most of all.

Researchers Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither from the University of California San Diego found that low-skilled workers were the most adversely affected by minimum wage increases, despite the fact that this was the group that such legislation sought to help.

Monkton, whose youngest daughter Domenica has Down Syndrome, says that even raising the subject of exempting disabled workers from the minimum wage “is to be considered brutish and inhumane.”

When a Conservative MP made a speech in the House of Commons in 2011 noting the scandal that only six percent of people with learning disabilities have a job and suggested exempting them from the minimum wage, he was pilloried as a heartless ogre.

“If legislators are not prepared to accept that the minimum wage is making it harder for some of those vulnerable people to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder, we will never get anywhere in trying to help these people into employment,” said Philip Davies, the MP from Shipley.

After his intervention, Davies was described as “insane” and “disgusting,” and even compared to Adolf Hitler. “This is a contemptible bid to impose slave labour,” clucked The Daily Mirror.

In her essay, Monkton attributes the root of the problem to the abstraction of policy makers, who are “driven by the idea of ‘ending inequality’ without looking at the real lives of people involved.”

So they “obsess on the ‘human right’ of disabled adults to receive the minimum wage” yet are “more interested in political slogans than in understanding what would be the best thing in practice.”

In practice, Monkton observes, “money isn’t the real point.” For many, it’s really about providing meaningful employment, which helps bring fulfillment and purpose to life.

Unless laws change, she warns, many disabled children “can expect a life spent in the shadows, slumped on a sofa, eating the wrong sort of food, watching daytime television.”

“This is not about the right to a minimum wage, it is about the right to have the human dignity that comes with work, and with being included,” she said.

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