At a meeting called by DPAC on 19th April 2012 to discuss the issues for the disabled people’s movement in opposing the closure of Remploy factories, Tracey Lazard, Chief Executive of Inclusion London, London’s leading Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation, called on disabled people to unite in opposing the government’s cynical decision to snatch employment from thousands of disabled workers.
Over 30 disabled people and allies attended the meeting held at the University of London Union to build support from the disability people’s community for the national Remploy demonstration which took place on 20th April and the meeting called by Unite for 26th April. The meeting represented the first time the disabled people’s movement has openly discussed the complex and controversial issues which the Remploy dispute touches on and which have led to the stigma which still largely surrounds support for the Remploy workers from within the movement. However, whilst some disabled people are publically quoted as celebrating the closures as a victory for disability equality, DPAC has criticised the closures and the lack of any form of worker/user- led alternative which was proposed in the Sayce report.
Lazard explained Inclusion London’s position in opposing the factory closures and how this is in no way an endorsement of segregated employment. At a time of recession when non-disabled people cannot find jobs and when benefit cuts are pushing genuine disabled claimants off benefits and into poverty, it is irresponsible to remove meaningful employment from thousands of disabled people. The Sayce Report recommended investing money saved from the factory closures in Access to Work, the government programme that funds support for disabled people in mainstream employment, but with continuing cuts and restrictions to Access to Work, it is evident that the closures have nothing to do with building an inclusive society and are nothing more than yet another a cynical attempt to save money by targeting the most disadvantaged members of the community. Rob Murthwaite, DPAC national steering committee, spoke out about the need to nail the lie that this dispute is about disabled people’s equality.
There was debate around the need for segregated workplaces and also about the best way to effectively support the Remploy workers in their dispute. There was unanimous agreement that the Remploy workers have been mismanaged by non-disabled people with senior managers taking home 1.8 million in bonuses in 2011 while the factory floor were under a pay restraint. There was a strong feeling that government should have invested in reforming the factories according to user led models so that the expertise of the workers could be utilised in establishing viable, sustainable enterprises. Questions were raised about figures given out by the government purportedly showing the unsustainability of the factories. There was also consensus that on the core disabled people’s principle of nothing about us without us, the movement needs to listen and respect the voices of the workers. Those voices say no to factory closures so we need to respect that and support the workers in their self-determined struggle.
John McDonnell MP spoke about the grim prospects for the thousands of disabled Remploy workers set to lose their jobs. In areas with Remploy factories the ratio of people chasing each job is 30-40: 1 which is far higher than average. After losing their income from employment the workers will face serious difficulty in obtaining enough income to survive from welfare benefits as the system is ever tightened and the government moves ahead with proposals to replace DLA with PIP and in so doing remove 20% of claimants. He spoke about work he is involved in joint with PCS to document cases where coroners have directly linked deaths to the loss of benefits.
The meeting agreed actions in support for the Remploy workers to include a letter from DPAC and Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations to the press opposing the factory closures, support for the meeting called by Unite on 26th April and participation in the demonstration on 20th April.
SAVE REMPLOY – PUBLIC MEETING THURSDAY 26TH APRIL 6.30 – 8.30 PM AT FARADAY HOUSE 48-51 Old Gloucester Street London , WC1N 3AE (Opposite Unite’s Holborn Office car park)
Tracey Lazard’s presentation:Remploy presentation – IL