Disabled Remploy workers who are being made redundant as the government closes factories demonstrated outside the Tory party conference yesterday, calling on the government to stop the closure and privatisation of the Remploy Factory sites and to enter into meaningful discussion on the structure and future of Remploy and the whole of supported employment programme in Britain with a view to introducing a new vision based on public procurement work.
This government attacks disabled people on benefits, cutting support and declaring as many as possible to be fit for work and not entitled to any support at all. They say they are doing this to help people back into work but at the same time they close Remploy, which was set up after world war two to provide supported employment for returning soldiers disabled in the war.
In the West Midlands the factories in Birmingham and Coventry supply the automotive industry and employ nearly 200 people between them, many of whom are disabled. These two factories are profitable but need investment of around £8-£10m over the next two years for stock and cashflow purposes if they are to move to a sustainable Community Interest Company model. The government though is looking to sell the factories (which really means the contracts they have) in April 2013. If this goes ahead it is obvious that a profit motivated company will buy the contracts, and then after 6 months when the TUPE’d disabled workers are no longer protected, they will either just close the factories and move production to cheaper locations elsewhere or gradually reduce the number of disabled employees who often need more support and have higher cost than other employees.
Remploy is committed to supporting disabled workers and has done so throughout it’s existence. Many people work there their whole lives. Stephen had come down from Leeds for the demonstration, he will be made redundant on the 16th of November after 27 years of work at Remploy, and says that he feels he has no chance of finding work.
You put news on and you just hear this joke government cutting police, fire service, NHS and no chance of anyone getting a job. I feel angry and let down because they said they wouldn’t take my right to work in Remploy away
85% of Remploy workers who were made redundant in a previous round of closures have not been able to find work, and if the West Midlands factories close, their chances do not look great. Earlier this year Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) expanded their Solihull plant, receiving 20,000 applications for 1,000 jobs. This has just been repeated at their Castle Bromwich site. For Remploy workers who have been in factories supplying the automotive industry, JLR would seem like an ideal place to find work, but with such incredible levels of competition, it’s hard for anyone to get an interview, let alone the job.
Instead they will be facing life on benefits with ATOS assessments no doubt declaring them fully fit for work (since hey they’ve all been working already) and placing them on unemployment benefit without the extra support the Work Related Activity Group for disability benefits should provide.
Thus their next experience of a workplace is likely to be unpaid, on forced workfare schemes.
Phil Davies, GMB national officer told us about the background behind these closures:
Sheltered workshops are allowed under EU procurement rules and can successfully keep disabled workers gainfully employed if supported by public contracts. Instead this government used RADAR, Mind, Mencap, Scope, RNID and Leonard Cheshire as “Trojan horses” to close the Remploy factories.
Radar characterised Remploy as some out of date solution with attempts to stigmatise it as a form of ghettoisation and linking it to old institutional forms. You could use the same argument against staging the Paralympic games.
These organisations started with an aspiration we all share where all disabled people are treated in an equal way in employment and that ideal state may lead to a completely different view of what support is required.
This is what happens when you make “the best” the enemy of “the good”. You start with resolutions that will not be achieved in the short run. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that ignoring real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of disabled charities – disabled charities – used as Trojan horses to enable redundancy notices for more than 2,700 disabled workers in 54 locations across the UK. The Tories knew what they were doing using these “useful idiots”.
You can support Remploy workers by signing their petition, and by coming to London on 20th October for the TUC national demonstration for A Future That Works – a slogan whose relevance is only too clear when thinking about Remploy.
We offer our solidarity to all Remploy workers and hope that the government reverses the closures and restores funding to Remploy to continue to support disabled people to work and not just sit at home hoping to find work.