Speaking at the Treasury Select Committee, Philip Hammond was asked to explain the sluggish economic growth reported in the Autumn Budget. To which he responded:
“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”
It’s not hard to see why critics have been vocal in their reactions to Hammond’s statement. Whilst offering a backhanded compliment, he seems to be suggesting that disabled people going into the workforce are hampering production, and causing economic stagnation.
Apart from being outrageously offensive, it seems the Chancellor was plucking this idea from thin air. For one, the ‘very high levels’ of disabled people in employment doesn’t seem to be predicated on any facts or figures, with people with disabilities making up 11.4% of the UK workforce.
Perhaps more disconcertingly, the chancellor, who should be very much acquainted with contributions to the economy, seems to have ignored the statistic that a 10% rise in employment among disabled adults is expected to contribute £12 billion to the economy by 2030.
At the same time, according to Athena Stevens, the national spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party, Mr. Hammond also seems to be ignoring the fact that, “employees with disabilities are less likely to take sick days and more likely to have a higher output in the workplace.”
Elaborating on her point, Ms Stevens suggests that, “the comments are a product of Mr. Hammond’s old-fashioned ‘sticks and bricks’ view of the economy. His preference for physical infrastructure to turnaround the economy is rooted in the 1950s and denies the realities of the modern workforce.”
In fact Disability Rights UK has come out and said that there’s, “not a shred of evidence to back up Hammond’s assertion and [they have] the numbers – the things Hammond is supposed to be good with – to back that up.”
You can view the stats in full here, which demonstrate that, when accounting for underpinning economic structures, employment practices and other parameters, the connection between productivity and employment rates is effectively non-existent.
Caught in the terrorist attack on the Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai, Will Pike jumped from a window to escape, but fractured his spine and now uses a wheelchair. Working for an advertising agency in London now, his anger was understandable:
“While many people are working to demystify disability and push for a more inclusive society, shifting the stigma away from negative stereotypes is very delicate business; as such, Hammond’s comments have the potential to undo so much good work at ground level.”
He added: “With these comments, Hammond and the Tory government have further eroded the perception that they understand or empathise with the disabled community.”
Labour’s shadow disabilities minister Marsha de Cordova also tweeted, “Since 2010 disability employment gap has been stuck at about 30 odd percent. Productivity will need massive investment strategy and education programmes. Not stopping people like me from working.
“As a disabled person I am shocked and appalled that Philip Hammond is trying to blame me and other disabled people for the Tories’ economic failure. He should apologise immediately for this disgraceful comment.”
Mr. Hammond has yet to show any remorse for his comments, and Theresa May, in a back and forth with MP Caroline Lucas denied him ever making them:
“Actually the Chancellor did not express the views that she claims that he was expressing. This is a government that values the contribution disabled people make to our society and our economy and the workplace.
“This is a government that is actually working to see more disabled people getting into the workplace.
“We’ve had some success, there’s more to do, but we will continue to work to make sure those disabled people who want to work are able to do so.”