On Wednesday night, as he gave evidence to the Commons Treasury select committee, Philip Hammond advised that low productivity rates in the UK could be linked to the employment of more disabled people.
At a session where he was presenting evidence, where he is under obligation to not mislead parliament, our Chancellor included a throwaway statement, which is so damaging and distasteful, that he has provoked outrage and calls for apologies and resignation.
How he can point to the most marginalised group in society and pin the country’s fiscal woes upon them is beyond me. This is scapegoating at its worst and shows a total lack of understanding or compassion. He should be ashamed and apologetic. Yet so far the response has been muted.
This is coming from a Chancellor who often takes credit for getting disabled people into work, and a Government who just made a very public commitment to disability employment. Just last week the Prime Minister released a report on how it plans to get one million more disabled people into work. And its industrial strategy states that getting more disabled people into work and “creating a workplace which is truly flexible can improve productivity”.
In response to these comments, Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, has demanded a formal apology. Marsha de Cordova, said she was shocked and appalled by the “disgraceful” comment. Anna Bird, director of policy and research at disability charity Scope, has described the comments as “totally unacceptable and derogatory”.
Scope has released analysis which refutes these claims entirely. Quite simply, in the UK, rates of productivity have been unaffected by an increase of disabled people in work.
For me, I find these comments hurtful and demeaning. But they also invite me to question myself, as well as the role of other disabled people in the work place - which, quite frankly, is beyond damaging. I consider myself to be someone who has adjusted relatively well to life as a paraplegic. I have the confidence to leave the house and pursue my own interests, and I’m grateful for that. But I’m well aware of the fact that many people affected by disability struggle with confidence and self-belief. Imagine how these comments will be received by them? Or by young disabled people who have yet to enter the work place - what are they meant to think? How are they going to feel about leaving school and getting a job when someone of Hammond’s stature is saying that you’re a drag upon the workplace?
Fundamentally, these comments simply demonstrate how detached our government is from the experiences of real people. The Tories should be ashamed of themselves, and if they have any decency they will remove Philip Hammond from his post.