A leading charity has demanded answers after the Prime Minister dismissed a storm over the Chancellor’s comments about disabled workers.
Philip Hammond has come under fire for suggesting an increase in the number of disabled people in employment could be partly to blame for the UK’s sluggish productivity.
Theresa May was urged to order her Chancellor to apologise for his remarks, made last week to a committee of MPs, during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Green MP Caroline Lucas told the Prime Minister: “It is disgraceful that he has so far declined to express any regret.
“So will the Prime Minister take back control and order the Chancellor to withdraw his remark and apologise for inaccurate and offensive comments?”
Image: Theresa May dismissed calls to force an apology from her Chancellor
Ms Lucas also cited a written parliamentary question she had tabled calling for the Government to reveal “the evidential basis” on which Mr Hammond based his “extraordinary claim”.
She said: “I tabled a written question to the Chancellor, asking for the evidence behind his extraordinary claim to the Treasury Committee that disabled workers are responsible for the UK’s productivity problems.
“Last night I received his written answer; unsurprisingly, there is no such evidence for that claim.”
But the Prime Minister told Ms Lucas the Chancellor “did not express the views that she claims he expressed”.
“This is a Government who value the contribution that disabled people make to our society and to our economy in the workplace,” Mrs May added.
“This is a Government who are actually working to ensure that more disabled people get into the workplace.
“We have had some success; there is more to do, but we will continue to work to ensure that those disabled people who want to work are able to do so.”
Disability campaigners reacted with anger to the Prime Minister’s dismissal of the row.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive of charity Scope, told Sky News: “The Chancellor did explicitly link increased participation of disabled people in the workforce with productivity.
“We wrote to the Prime Minister last week to request an explanation for these unacceptable and derogatory comments. There hasn’t been a reply.
“The Chancellor still hasn’t withdrawn his comments, or offered a full apology.
“He has to do this now, before further doubt is thrown onto the Government’s policy to get more disabled people in to work.”
Susan Daniels OBE, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society said: “Given the right support a deaf person can do anything a hearing person can, yet we know that 56% of deaf people have experienced discrimination at work and 25% have left a job as a result.
“In its words and actions the Government needs to show complete commitment to breaking down the barriers to employment for deaf young people and others with disabilities.
“Anything less is unacceptable.”
Speaking on 6 December in front of the Commons’ Treasury Select Committee, Mr Hammond sought to explain pessimistic productivity growth forecasts within his recent Budget.
He said: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups, very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – we may have had an impact on the overall productivity measurement.”
More from Philip Hammond
In response to Ms Lucas’s written question, Treasury minister Andrew Jones said the Chancellor was “extremely proud” of the Government’s record of helping over 600,000 disabled people into employment over the last four years.
He added Mr Hammond’s comments were part of a “broader point” about workforce productivity.