Conservative party conference: MP accuses equipment providers of ‘profiteering’


newslatestA Tory MP has accused independent living equipment providers of “profiteering” by charging “eye-watering” prices, and described his frustration at failing to persuade Asda – a previous employer – to launch a range of cut-price disability aids.

Philip Davies told a fringe meeting organised by the disability charity Whizz-Kidz that he had tried to convince the supermarket giant to “collapse the market” in equipment, in the same way that it had done by massively under-cutting prices on goods such as books.

The Conservative MP, who caused outrage among many campaigners three years ago by suggesting that disabled people should be able to offer to work for less than the minimum wage, said that it “still rankles” that he could not persuade Asda to launch the scheme.

He was previously customer service project manager at Asda, and said he became “passionate” while there about improving the shopping experience for disabled customers.

He said Asda had introduced a lot of improvements in this area – for example on accessible  parking, and providing scooters for disabled customers to borrow – because it was “very easy to persuade the board at Asda that it made incredibly good business sense”.

He said: “If you can offer the best services…. they will pass four or five or six supermarkets in order to go to that particular shop. If you make stores more accessible for people with a disability you actually make them better for everyone.”

But Davies told the meeting that a visit to the annual Mobility Roadshow one year had opened his eyes to the prices being charged in the equipment market.

He said: “I couldn’t believe the prices of things at those exhibition stands. For things like an electric scooter, the prices were eye-watering.

“My view is that these people here were taking advantage of the fact that they were a captive market. I thought these organisations were profiteering… I decided something had to be done about this.”

Davies said he tried to persuade the Asda board that there was an “obligation” to start selling cut-price equipment and “collapse  the market”, as they had done with books.

He said: “It would have been absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately I was unable to persuade the board. It still rankles me now that I could not persuade Asda to do this.”

Ruth Owen, chief executive of Whizz-Kidz, told the same meeting: “I do think the supply chain – particularly in wheelchairs – has had a monopoly for many, many years and people have not voiced enough about the charges and cost.”

Whizz-Kidz has now secured the support of Asda’s rival Tesco in driving down the price it pays for wheelchairs, “taking significant cost out of the system”, she said.

1 October 2014