Treasury minister blames disabled people who work for fall in productivity

Government policies relating to people with disabilities appear to be in even more disarray than usual. Once again, those with disabilities resulting from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, or any other cause, are under attack.

The department for work and pensions’ assessment system for disability benefits is ‘encouraging’ disabled people to find work. But chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond seems to be singing from a different songbook. That’s because he is blaming people with disabilities who work for Britain’s low productivity.


Chancellor Phillip Hammond. pictured on budget day.

The Treasury Select Committee asked Hammond about the fall in UK productivity that he mentioned in his budget speech. In reply, the chancellor (treasury minister) said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce.”

He stated that this includes “far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people.”

While he followed the government line that this is “something we should be extremely proud of”, he went on to say that it “may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

However, that is neither fair nor accurate. People with disabilities are not the real reason for the drop in productivity. No, the real reason is closer to home – it is a series of government policies.

Of course, the chancellor didn’t want to admit that. So, he tried to use disabled people to distract the committee from the truth. But, all that led to a more than ironic situation.

Productivity: A government-made crisis

Not so long ago, people on disability benefits were demonised as scroungers and skivers. Now, though, it is the turn of disabled people in work. Hammond is trying to demonise them for lowering the productivity of the whole workforce. That would be funny, if it wasn’t so sick.

Labour’s work and pensions shadow secretary Debbie Abrahams was quick to condemn Hammond.

She said: “It is disgraceful that Philip Hammond is scapegoating disabled people for a productivity crisis created by the Conservatives’ failed economic policies.

“This is coming from a government that has forced disabled people to pay the price of their (the government’s) failed austerity agenda, including by cutting measures that help disabled people into the workforce and scrapping their own manifesto commitment on halving the disability employment gap.

“We should be increasing disabled people’s access to employment, not denigrating their contributions. The chancellor should apologise immediately.”

I agree, Hammond should say sorry. He should apologise for wrongly blaming the disabled for the country’s drop in productivity. He should apologise for failed economic policies for which he, as chancellor, is directly responsible.

In fact, Hammond should apologise for being chancellor – and then resign.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.


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