The government should do more to force employers to pay a living wage to disabled employees, according to a leading disabled activist.
Simone Aspis said she was “sick to death” of big employers paying “shelf-fillers” the minimum wage, while their bosses received salaries worth hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
She spoke out after months of announcements from the coalition government around welfare reform and the need to cut spending on disability benefits.
Aspis said: “It seems to me that the biggest people dependent on the welfare system are not disabled people, it is employers, who pay no more than the minimum wage.”
She said that paying disabled people low wages meant the government then had to support them financially through the welfare system.
She added: “You have got to do something to make these employers pay a lot more.”
She said employers should take “more responsibility for paying a decent wage so [disabled people] do not have to depend on the state if they work full-time”.
Aspis was speaking at a joint meeting of disability-related all party parliamentary groups, which was discussing the government’s plans for a new universal credit (UC) as part of a major shake-up of the welfare system.
The government says the UC – which will see a range of benefits replaced by a single payment – will cut bureaucracy, fraud and error, and make it easier and more worthwhile to return to work.
Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, told Aspis that one of the purposes of the UC was to “crack” the problem of “in-work poverty”, where people were working but still in poverty. This would include investing resources in helping those “doing modest amounts of work or poorly-paid work”.
He told Aspis: “You ask a very good question. The question is, ‘is the state going to subsidise inadequate wages?’ That’s a very good question.”
But he added: “All I can say is I heard your question.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance, had earlier told the meeting: “We believe the overall effect of the universal credit and [government] welfare reforms…will see more disabled people losing support and being forced into poverty.”
6 December 2010