Disability charities have criticised the Chancellor of the Exchequer for suggesting there is a link between the UK’s low level of productivity and an increased number of disabled people in the workplace.
Appearing before the Treasury Select Committee in parliament this week, Philip Hammond was asked about the fall in the UK’s productivity rates.
"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," he said.
Tim Cooper, chief executive of United Response, said the charity was "shocked and extremely disappointed" by Hammond’s remarks and called on him to apologise.
"From our extensive experience, we know that people with disabilities are valuable members of the UK’s workforce, yet there are many barriers they have to face to find employment and reach their full potential," said Cooper.
"Sadly, the number of people with learning disabilities in work remains woefully low, with just 5.8 per cent in paid employment. The Chancellor’s derogatory remarks serve only to marginalise this already disenfranchised group further from the workplace."
Mark Atkinson, chief executive of the learning disability charity Scope, has written to Prime Minister Theresa May calling on her to clarify Hammond’s "factually inaccurate and incredibly harmful accusation".
He said that increasing the number of disabled people in employment had never had a harmful effect on productivity levels.
"I am confident that you will understand the adverse impact yesterday’s derogatory comments will have on disabled people’s chances of entering and staying in work," wrote Atkinson.
The learning disability charity Mencap issued a statement from Ismail Kaji, who works in the charity’s parliamentary team, responding to Hammond’s comments.
"Philip Hammond's words are very discriminatory to disabled people," said Kaji. "For him to suggest any minority group is hurting the economy is not acceptable for someone in his position.
"As someone with a learning disability, I know how hard it is to get a job. I went to over 50 interviews before landing my role, and a big reason for that was employers thinking I would not be a good employee.
"The employment rate for people with a learning disability is just 5.8 per cent and getting lower. For Philip Hammond to say something like this with no evidence is only going to make this worse."
Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, a membership charity that works to make it easier for businesses to employ disabled people, also said Hammond’s comments were wrong.
"There is no evidence to link increasing employment of disabled people to a drop in productivity," she said. "On the contrary, among the 300 organisations that we represent, we’ve found that positive attitudes towards employing disabled people and accepting differences among employees have reduced employee turnover and the lost productivity associated with it.
"We’ve found that addressing the needs of disabled colleagues and introducing disability-smart measures actually reduces turnover among all employees, whether they identify as disabled or not."
Many people and organisations, including Scope, expressed their opposition to Hammond's comments on Twitter and called for him to apologise.