Lord Freud has now apologised for suggesting that it might be a good idea to reduce the minimum wage to an even lower rate for disabled people than for the 'not yet disabled'. However, for many of us, what was really shocking about his statement was, not his muddled thinking about the minimum wage, but the fact that he thought some people were worth less than other people.
At a stroke his statement seemed to imply a rejection of one of the basic tenets of morality and politics - that we are all of equal worth. Instead it seems he thinks some people are worth just £2 per hour.
Now I suspect, if Lord Freud was put on the spot, he would say that he'd just made a slip. Perhaps he had meant to say something more defensible, such as, some people may struggle to be paid as much as they would like, for a job they want to do. For example, I am sure, given my appalling DIY skills, that I'd be very lucky to be paid more than £2 per hour as a plumber. Fortunately I don't want to be a plumber.
But what I'd be paid as a plumber tells you nothing of what I'm worth. The price of my labour and my human worth are two very different things.
However there are reasons to fear that Freud, like the bad economist he is, has made a Freudian slip, and that his error reveals his true beliefs. Like many of the powerful in England today, he seems to be a meritocrat - a modern day aristocrat - who believes that some people are just better than others, and that their superiority should be rewarded with better pay, more power and plenty of perks.
The true measure of a man is not his words, it is his actions; and it is the dreadful policies developed by Lord Freud and his colleagues at the DWP, that tell us what he really believes.
As LDA England, the representative body for people with learning disabilities, says in their statement:
"...the real reason he must resign is his ongoing involvement role in the development of a range of damaging policies, all of which have diminished people's rights, caused stress and harm and increased poverty for disabled people and their families."
You can read the full statement here, the list below highlights a few of the many current injustices people with learning disabilities face in this country:
- The failing Work Programme that actually makes it harder for disabled people to find work
- The Work Capability Assessment which is causing physical and mental health problems for those forced to go through it
- The indiscriminate use of sanctions and stigma which is harming people's income and sense of self-respect
- A range of different cuts in benefits which mean that disabled people are now the number one target for cuts
These policies reveal a man who has confused human worth with market price. He is not alone. As a society we have seriously lost our way on these issues - despite some fairly obvious truths.
- Salaries tell you nothing about human worth. Whatever salary you earn is a function of the scarcity in the labour market of the skills you happen to have, and any power you can exercise in the setting of wages. Your human worth doesn't go up when your price rises, nor does it go down when your price falls or you lose your job.
- The most worthwhile activities we do are not even paid. For instance, the going wage for being a parent is currently zero.
- Well paid jobs can be worthless. People will pay you well to commit crimes, make weapons or gamble with money on the stock-market. High salaries have never been associated with virtue or competence.
It is perhaps natural to confuse real human worth with salaries, celebrity or power - it's not an uncommon mistake - what is really upsetting is to see this error turned into an ongoing policy which crushes disabled people or indeed any group that the powerful deem less worthy.