Philip Hammond has blamed Britain’s low economic productivity – in part – on the more disabled people being in work.
The Chancellor – nicknamed ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ because of his often robotic focus on facts and figures – has often been accused of being politically tone deaf.
Asked about the fall in UK productivity reported in Hammond’s budget speech, the Chancellor told the Treasury Select Committee it could be down to the number of “marginal” groups in the workforce.
He said: “The consequences of high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, will be felt for many, many years to come.
“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.”
Committee member and Labour MP John Mann said Hammond’s remarks were “appalling”
He tweeted: “Chancellor just linked low productivity growth to the labour market and specified the increased employment of disabled people.
“My experience of employing disabled people is that they are brilliant employees. The chancellor’s comments are ignorant.”
In the run up to the election, Hammond was criticised for responding to a struggling nurse in a ‘robotic’ way during a radio interview.
Struggling nurse Cheryl told BBC Business News: “It’s hard to [try not to] live in fear, without being really panicked about your budget, and about how you’re going to be able to feed your family.
But asked if he was “ashamed” by her story, Hammond insisted things were looking rosy for the economy – and gave a coldly technical answer.
Speaking to Rachel Burden on BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast, Hammond said: “Real household disposable incomes per capita in 2016 were at a record high and real wages are forecast to rise in every year of the current five-year forecast period.”
“But look,” he added. “We know that the economy is going through a period of uncertainty as we leave the European Union.
“That is why we need strong leadership under Theresa May to lock in the economic gains that we’ve made through the hard work of the British people over the last seven years and to ensure that we get the right deal from Europe.”