There is a discussion in the UK that was sparked somewhat badly. The discussion is whether employers should be allowed to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage, and have the government top up the wage out of taxpayer money. The awful spark of this conversation was when a politician said “some people… are worth less than others”. Awful. Just awful. But fundamentally correct. And recognising it will open up more opportunities for the disabled.
We need to get something clear: we are not paid according to our moral worth. I don’t believe there is any difference in the moral worth of well-bodied and disabled people. We are paid according to our economic worth, or our productivity. And in some jobs, disabled people are going to be less productive than others. With that, either true or simply perceived, employers are hesitant to employ disabled people. This cuts off their opportunities. If it is in fact true that disabled people are less productive, then they should be paid less. In the same way we all want a raise when we do a good job¹.
The benefit of this would be that disabled people can actually have a job. I don’t know whether you’ve spent any time unemployed, but it is demoralising; you start to value yourself less. That is something we need to avoid. If people who have been long-term unemployed can get into the habit of being employed, their productivity will increase as they learn workarounds for their particular concern. We’re talking about disabled people, not morons; they will learn workarounds and increase their productivity. Albeit, there is a good risk it will be slower than the well-bodied. And “full productivity” isn’t guaranteed. We don’t expect industry to invest in risk like that, but somehow we want to resolve the unemployment among the disabled issue.
This isn’t a hand out, either. The government can reward hard work; it is industry that rewards productivity in real terms. The government would be paying out less money than it is at current, because the job would pay part of the living money, and the government would pay the top up instead of the lot (as it is now).
There would be an extra responsibility for the HR department, obviously. It’s role would be to look at whether an employee’s disability is still very much holding back productivity, and if not balancing pay should shift: as the disabled employee becomes full productive, the industry should foot the entire salary; the issue is no longer there.
This system, even if it was sparked without any level of sensitivity, creates opportunities for people who employers are too risk-averse to employ. It allows disabled people to develop skills to improve their employability (because long-term unemployment is probably the real long-term obstacle to productivity; it leads to lacking skills). It saves some government spending and improves the morale of people who, due to unemployment, are at real risk of depression.
¹ I’d go one further, and say that more people should be paid on productivity. I for one am sick of picking up the slack of lazy employees because I have some loyalty to the company, customer or my sense of moral worth. Only the disabled, people who have a legitimate excuse for being less productive, should actually get the government top up.