The dangers of throwing several thousand people from paid work into unemployment should be obvious to anyone. The fact that a majority, although not all, of the Remploy workers are disabled people should signal a further problem: disabled people who want to work, are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people in all official statistics since records began. For example in 2011 the employment rate was 48.8% for disabled people compared to 77.5% for non-disabled people .
It is dangerous, misguided and completely ludicrous to claim that all disability organisations and the disability movement have decided that a new perverse way of supporting disabled people is to make them unemployed and subject to the ravages that disabled people must endure under this government, as the Sayce report suggests. For those of us that have spent years arguing for an equality agenda for disabled people the arguments put forward in the Sayce report are dangerous, misguided and wrong.
1. Remploy factories due for closure are “unviable” and too costly to run.
Remploy is no more unviable than the Royal Bank of Scotland, yet the Government found billions to bail out bankers. Remploy was set up before the end of the Second World War to provide employment and employment placement services for disabled people.
Labour MP Geraint Davies exposed the mismanagement of Remploy in Parliament recently when speaking as part of the Opposition Day Debate on disability welfare and support on 20th June :
“When I started becoming actively involved with my local Remploy factory about a year ago, the orders it was receiving were not high enough. I went round to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the local health service, the local university, and so on, and now the factory is working flat out, getting more and more orders. That just shows that if the central command in Remploy were more effective, the factories could be successful and could work.”
If the factories are not financially sustainable, then why have there been 65 bids to save 31 Remploy sites (all but 9 were rejected)?
2. Remploy workers don’t do “proper” jobs.
This is a myth peddled by the Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith, who said that Remploy workers were “not doing any work… just making cups of coffee”.
This sneering insult is far from the truth.
Workers at Remploy are involved in a range of jobs from producing medical equipment to CCTV operators, and from assembly for car companies to book-binding.
3. Each Remploy place costs some £25,000 per year.
This was the figure used in the Sayce report which recommended the closure of the factories.
The report does not explain that that this figure was calculated on the basis of how much it costs to run the entire factory network including layers of unnecessary of overpaid management, their bonuses and company cars, and under-performing central posts filled largely by non-disabled workers at a time when managers were running the factories into the ground and not using resources to capacity.
Mark Holloway a worker at the Barking factory in east London said, “They say it costs £25,000 per disabled person to keep the jobs, but over 400 senior managers are on salaries of £40,000 to £60,000”.
For 2010-2011, as recently 4 months before the beginning of this closures process, Remploy management received 1.8 million in bonuses at a time when the factory floor was on a pay restraint.
The cost of running the factory network was calculated without taking into account income earned from provision of training placements, which although delivered through the factory network was used to generate income instead into Remploy Employment Services.
Trade Unions representing the workers estimate that when the profit from sales is considered and taken into account the cost per disabled worker to the State could be as low as £7,000. When you also take into account the fact that tax and insurance is being paid in and benefits are not being paid out this figure could be substantially lower.
The cost of per worker needs to be compared against the £18,880 per year cost to the tax payer for those on long term benefits. There is also a hidden cost to the NHS. It is commonly accepted that once a disabled person stops work their health deteriorates and more medical intervention is needed. Add this to the increase costs of the £18,880 and the actual final cost could be £30,000 to £40,000 per year in increased costs. If we add in the cost of the 2008 redundancy of £40+ million, plus the impact on family members having to give up or reduce work in order to support disabled relatives now at home during the day and you can soon see it will take years, if ever to recover the costs.
4. Money spent on Remploy factory placements could support thousands more disabled people through Access to Work.
Access to Work can only support disabled people once they are in jobs, it doesn’t help people find jobs.
Access to Work has a lower success rate than the Remploy factories with supporting disabled people from impairment groups that are under-represented in the workplace. In 2010-2011 people with mental health support needs made up just 1.4% of disabled customers helped by Access to Work compared to 5% of Remploy employees. When you look at learning difficulties, Access to Work provided support to just 5% compared to 17.2% working in Remploy.
Access to Work provides support to different groups of disabled people than are employed by Remploy.
Increasing its budget alone will not enable Access to Work to more successfully reach these under-represented groups: government policy is to reduce resources invested in individual disabled people through Access to Work support. Instead of stretching the budget to cover more disabled people this effectively stops the programme from being any use to many disabled people. Jobcentre Plus disability equality advisors have told us they have stopped referring disabled job-seekers to Access to Work because the growing restrictions on what the programme will cover make it pointless.
5. It’s segregated employment.
This is one simplistic argument popularised by the Sayce report, however the Remploy factories do not employ disabled people exclusively. In 2008, 29 factory sites geographically based from Scotland to Cornwall closed with over 2,500 Remploy employees becoming unemployed. Of these, 1,700 employees were disabled. The 2012 closures will affect around 80% of employees who are disabled.
6. The closure of factories will lead to greater inclusion for disabled people.
The inclusion of disabled people in society is at greater risk under this Condem government than it has been for decades. Inclusive education is fundamental for achieving inclusive communities, yet Condem education policy (name it/link it) is to bring back segregated education through what they call ‘removing the bias of inclusion’ and the promotion of Academies which notoriously discriminate against disabled pupils. For disabled adults the closure of the independent living fund signals a return to institutional care as local authorities such as Worcester seek to cap social care support forcing disabled people with higher levels of support need to go into care and denying them the right to live in the community.
Against attacks on disabled people’s right to inclusion on this magnitude pushing a few thousand workers into joblessness will achieve nothing.
On the other hand through employment Remploy workers have access to life chances that would be denied to them through joblessness. Remploy employee Tony Collins, a middle distance runner with the Great Britain Learning Disabled Athletics Squad who uses his salary to travel the world attending international athletics events, will not only lose his job when the factory where he works closes but his whole life will change for the worse.
7. The workers will be supported when the factories close.
During 2007 and the early part of 2008 the company gave promises of support for those leaving in the round of closures(being) carried out under the Labour government, but history has shown that very few of the 1,700 disabled people received even a phone call from Remploy let alone any practical support of any kind.
Remploy workers will be given access to a person budget but a recent Community Care survey showed 48% of social workers do not believe personal budgets are of high enough monetary value to achieve personalisation, while a survey by the Learning Disability Coalition into the impact of cutbacks on frontline services revealed that 47% of people with learning difficulties spend most of their time at home.
In 2012 there is a community pot of 1.5 million offered to charities and disabled peoples’ organisations to support the workers into jobs by the DWP. This may explain the keenness of the illogical ‘equality into unemployment arguments’ that some were producing but it is unlikely that Disabled People’s Organisations and the usual list of disability charities or voluntary organisations can find jobs for ex-Remploy workers where they do not exist.
8. The workers will be able find mainstream employment
A survey by GMB of disabled workers made redundant in 2008 revealed 74% left on State benefits and of the 26% who had found alternative work only 5% of those had found work on equal or better terms.
From the round of Remploy closures before that in the 1980s, 85% of disabled ex-employees remain unemployed . This was in a better economic climate than that of today. Some committed suicide, many threatened suicide and many experienced mental health issues, for those that already had mental health issues these were exacerbated.