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Brace yourselves, here comes the disability pay gap

Summary:
Following on from the varied lies we're being told about the gender pay gap (hint, it's actually about primary child care decisions and little else) we're going to get hit with the next demand, that we close the disability pay gap:How can bosses get away with this? As Suzanne Moore points out, women’s unequal pay is justified in a myriad ways: from us not trying for competitive roles, to being “too caring”. Similarly far-fetched excuses are used when it comes to disabled people. Longstanding prejudice around disability – that we are pitiable, stupid or a burden – creates a climate that permits keeping disabled people in low-waged, junior roles. Even the chancellor, Philip Hammond, last year implied disabled workers were less productive, while the idea we should be paid less than

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Following on from the varied lies we're being told about the gender pay gap (hint, it's actually about primary child care decisions and little else) we're going to get hit with the next demand, that we close the disability pay gap:

How can bosses get away with this? As Suzanne Moore points out, women’s unequal pay is justified in a myriad ways: from us not trying for competitive roles, to being “too caring”. Similarly far-fetched excuses are used when it comes to disabled people. Longstanding prejudice around disability – that we are pitiable, stupid or a burden – creates a climate that permits keeping disabled people in low-waged, junior roles. Even the chancellor, Philip Hammond, last year implied disabled workers were less productive, while the idea we should be paid less than non-disabled people is a persistently mainstream opinion (in 2014, the then welfare minister David Freud suggested disabled workers may be “worth” about £2 an hour ). The message is often, “Forget equal pay – if you’re disabled, you should be grateful for having a job at all.”

It depends upon the disability and the job of course. Freud was talking about, as an example, someone severely affected by Down's Syndrome. The harsh reality being that people are paid - closely enough and never perfectly - the value of their marginal production. The distinction between disabled and not is that if the productivity is equal then someone isn't disabled with reference to that particular task. And pay won't be different either.

However, disability is going to reduce the number of right shaped holes in the employment market that the peg of the worker can be inserted into. The blind aren't going to get jobs as deep sea divers nor pilots, we'd not recommend someone wheelchair bound applies to clean stairwells. 

That might well lead to differences in average wages. That rather comes with the very idea of disability itself, it does mean not being able to do certain things.

As to what we do about it, sure, this is unfair in that cosmic sense. Much to most disability comes from sheer happenstance and we tend not to like outcomes being determined by that. However, equalising the wages that must be paid isn't the solution to this at all. For we would thereby be insisting upon the same wages for lower productivity, something which just always does lead to no jobs rather than better pay for those affected.

The correct answer is that if we, as a society, wish to compensate for that happenstance then it's we, as a society, that has to do the compensating. Rather than trying to dump it upon employers and thereby increase the problem itself over the incomes of the disabled. This means we put our hands in our pockets to pay tax to be distributed to those disabled. As, actually, we do.

The lesson to take to heart here is that we cannot change prices in markets without ill effects. But we can indeed compensate for market prices if we wish to do so. As we so often do of course, everything from unemployment pay to Motability to a carer's allowance is a compensation in this sense. This is the way to do it rather than trying to change the functioning of the market itself.

Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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