Lord Freud
Lord Freud got into political troubled for his comments around the labour of some severely disabled people, who he said are "not worth" minimum wage Reuters

You have to wonder how politics ever progresses in Britain. How new policies can be developed, how we can think laterally and outside of the consensus when trying to figure out the best way forward on any given issue.

Anyone who has the temerity to step out from the pack and say something different has the flesh torn from their bones.

Step forward Lord Freud, a Conservative welfare minister in the current UK government, who was recorded making comments suggesting a minority of disabled workers are "not worth" the minimum wage.

The former banker's comments, read out to a cacophony of disgust in the House of Commons by the Labour leader Ed Miliband, sound awful, I freely admit. Poorly phrased, perhaps even insensitive.

But the implied and yelling criticism by Miliband and others that Freud somehow thinks disabled people are lesser humans is vile, reactionary and absurd defamation.

Freud was making the comments at a fringe session at the Conservative Party conference after being asked a question from the audience.

This wasn't a carefully planned essay or policy document. It was an instant verbal answer to a question. Not many of us are eloquent, even at the best of times.

So let's instead look at the essence of what Freud was saying. The question, according to the BBC's version of events, was:

"...whether it was preferable for someone with a disability, who could not get a job, to be paid less than the minimum wage - and to have their income topped up with benefits - in order to give them the experience of work and boost their self esteem."

To which part of Freud's reply was:

"Now, there is a small... there is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they're not worth the full wage and actually I'm going to go and think about that particular issue, whether there is something we can do nationally, and without distorting the whole thing, which actually if someone wants to work for £2 an hour, and it's working can we actually..."

In no way was Freud suggesting disabled people are somehow morally inferior to others. In no way was Freud suggesting disabled people should be subjected to a lower income than others.

Yet the hyperbolic outrage that followed his comments' exposure makes it seem like he was asking to create a network of slave labour camps for the disabled.

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there is a small section of society who are very disabled and whose ability to compete with others in the labour market is hindered.

When Freud uses the phrase "not worth", he is referring to their labour. The output of a handful of disabled people is not worth the minimum wage they must be paid. This is a market truth.

It doesn't mean they can't or won't work. But it does mean that with the current minimum wage system, employers, many of their finances are already stretched, are effectively asked to act as charities.

This is a system that shuts these people out of the labour market because employers think it's too expensive to take them on. It's not a fair system.

Why is it disgusting to ask how we can create one that gives a greater chance to an unemployed disabled person of being hired, so they can enjoy all of the personal benefits employment brings?

And not only to ask that, but to caveat it with the state topping up the rest of their incomes so the financial burden doesn't fall on employers? Big firms may be able to absorb such costs, but two-thirds of those in employment work for SMEs.

Freud, of course, backtracked. He wants to keep his job, after all.

"I was foolish to accept the premise of the question," he said. "To be clear, all disabled people should be paid at least the minimum wage, without exception, and I accept that it is offensive to suggest anything else."

Except he was never saying their incomes should fall below the minimum wage. Just that the state welfare system should be used to top up their incomes while allowing firms to pay a wage that more reflects the market value of their labour.

This says nothing about the value of the person. The total sum of us as people is not the value of our labour. Anyone who thinks it is is a tragic waste of a human. A bore, a dullard, a cultureless tool.

What makes all this outrage from Labour even more facile, risible even, is that under the Blair government it stopped directly employing the disabled under its Remploy arm of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Remploy was used to hire disabled people who struggled to find work in the labour market. But because this is patronising – that the only realistic employer of a severely disabled person is the public sector – it shifted to supporting them into work elsewhere.

Fundamentally, the motivation of Labour's alteration to Remploy and Lord Freud are one and the same: to get those who are disabled and can't find work employed by businesses.

If we want to, we could have a serious debate about it. There are flaws: how do you calculate a wage that fairly reflects the market value of a seriously disabled person's labour? And who would do that calculation? Would it have to be looked at on an individual basis? Every job's different. Different challenges, tasks, responsibilities. The whole thing would be problematic.

But at the end of the day, this isn't about substance or debate. This is about political point-scoring, about image and façade.

And it'll damage the ability of policymakers and politicians to speak and think freely, as we should be encouraging them to do, about important problems and how to solve them.