Yesterday, Philip Hammond tried to pass the blame for the Tories’ economic failures onto disabled people. We’ve already been made to bear the brunt of cruel and unnecessary austerity measures and now the Chancellor is trying to blame disabled workers for Britain’s low productivity. These comments were lazy and offensive and show a complete lack of understanding of the real issues.
Over the past seven years, the Tories’ economic policies have failed to deliver better living standards. We now have the lowest growth in the G7, average real wages have not increased since 2006 and, in the budget, the target for clearing the deficit was moved back to 2031,16 years later than George Osborne’s original target.
At the root of this is Britain’s productivity crisis. Productivity growth collapsed after the 2008 financial crash and has yet to recover. This means that families across Britain are still struggling to make ends meet. But, instead of trying to tackle this crisis and reverse their failing policies, Philip Hammond decided to scapegoat disabled people for those political failures.
Not only were his comments deeply offensive, but, they also make no economic sense. Productivity started to stagnate in 2008, but, in that period, the disability employment gap – the difference between the proportion of disabled and able-bodied people in work – has barely moved from just over 30 percent. That represents millions of disabled people who, with reasonable adjustments, could be working and fulfilling their potential. According to the charity Scope, if we reduced the disability employment gap to the EU average of 20 per cent, that would grow the economy and contribute an extra £12bn to the Exchequer over the next few years.
The real cause of Britain’s productivity crisis is not people like me working. It’s austerity. The Tories’ ideological obsession with shrinking the state has led to a decade of underinvestment. In fact, we now have the lowest investment rates in the G7. In order to improve productivity, we need new technology, new infrastructure and new ideas. These will only come from a strategic investment plan which creates secure, meaningful and well-paid jobs right across Britain.
What I find particularly troubling about Philip Hammond’s comments is that they show a complete lack of awareness of the issues and barriers disabled people face when we look for work. By spreading this kind of misinformation, he has given legitimacy to one of the founding myths around disability and employment, a myth that stops disabled people from finding employment every single day. Surveys have found that nearly a third of business leaders don’t feel confident about employing a person with hearing loss. For other forms of disability that figure will be much, much higher. Tackling those myths should be the number one priority for a government that claims to want to get more disabled people into work. Philip Hammond’s comments will have made that job immeasurably more difficult.
It was only last week that the government finally published Improving Lives – The Future of Work, Health and Disability. The policy document confirmed that they have quietly dropped their ambition to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. It then went on to praise existing schemes like Disability Confident, despite there being no real evidence that they are working. It offered warm words but no new ideas and no serious policy announcements. Philip Hammond’s comments yesterday revealed why. They’re don’t believe that disabled people like me have anything to contribute to society.
We have a Chancellor who’s in denial about the causes of our productivity crisis and who wants to pass the blame onto disabled people. This is unacceptable. A society that works for all can’t hold disabled people back. If society is organised in a way that allows us to fulfil our potential, then everyone would benefit. We can’t allow this Tory government to get away with scapegoating like this. Philip Hammond should apologise immediately.
Marsha de Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea.