Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, was forced to defend himself after he suggested companies were less likely to employ disabled job applicants than other candidates if they had to pay them the same wage.
He told the Commons he had spoken to people with mental health issues who had viewed it as “inevitable” that someone without such difficulties would be taken on instead.
“If an employer is looking at two candidates,” he said, “one who has got disabilities and one who hasn’t, and they have got to pay them both the same rate, I invite you to guess which one the employer is more likely to take on.”
Asked to clarify his remarks later, the MP said: “I’m not saying disabled people should work for less money.
“I’m saying that if people finding it difficult to access the jobs market, decide themselves they were prepared to work for less in order to get on the first rung of the jobs ladder, if they thought that would help, then the Government should not stand in their way.”
The Conservative Party distanced itself from the remarks, which charities described as “preposterous” and “outrageous”.
Mind spokeswoman Sophie Corlett said: “It is a preposterous suggestion that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than the minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.
“People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do.”
Paul Jenkins, chief executive of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “To suggest that the answer to employment discrimination is to cut the wages of those already facing disadvantage is seriously misguided.”