The Government has confirmed the closure by December of 27 Remploy factories, only days after workers at Remploy’s 54 factories balloted for industrial action with two 24-hour strikes planned for the 19th and 26th July. Phil Davies, national officer of the GMB union, said: “To close these factories that employ disabled people in the present economic climate is a sentence to life of unemployment and poverty. The strikes will go ahead on July 19 and 26 as planned and should be a rallying point giving for each local community, the opportunity to stand behind these disabled workers who will be facing the scrapheap.” DPAC encourages disabled people, our allies and our organisations to show support the strikes in any way possible and to show solidarity with the thousands of disabled workers facing the loss of their livelihoods.
Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, was heckled by Opposition MPs as she carried out the Secretary of State for Work and Pension’s dirty work in making the announcement to the House of Commons on Tuesday. The government’s justifications for the closures are flawed and inaccurate. Miller claimed that the loss-making sites could not be subsidised any longer and that the £320 million budget for disabled employment services could be spent more effectively, following recommendations from the Sayce Review that money from the disability employment budget should be reinvested into other schemes to help disabled people find work and she referred to support from disabled people’s organisations for the ending of segregated employment practices.
As was raised in the motion for the Opposition Day Debate on welfare and support for disabled people earlier this month, the Government has in fact ignored key aspects of the Sayce recommendations in terms of proper consultation with disabled Remploy workers and the establishment of an independent panel to consider the future of each factory. The figures used to prove that the factories are financially unsustainable have also been widely discredited: the figure for how much it costs to employ a single disabled worker is based on the amount it takes to fund the entire factory network including layers of unnecessary of overpaid management, their bonuses, and under-performing central posts filled largely by non-disabled workers and does not take into account income earned from provision of training placements, which although delivered through the factories has been used to generate income instead into Remploy Employment Services. 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”.
Offers to find more cost effective solutions for the running of the factories by the unions and most recently by the Welsh Assembly have been turned down. A Welsh Government spokesman said: “When the UK Government made their closure announcement we asked them to devolve the Remploy budget and factories to the Welsh Government so that we could create our own sustainable future for this organisation. The Department for Work and Pensions has refused to consider this.”
Alternative uses for the disability employment budget include awarding substantial contracts to disabled people’s organisations to support individual Remploy workers following the loss of their jobs. 8 million will be made available for individualised packages of tailored support which will include a personal case worker with one-one-one sessions and access to a personal budget. 1.5 million is also available to disabled people’s organisation through a community support package aimed at supporting groups of Remploy workers through time-limited projects focused either on employment or community support. At face value these proposals could be taken as promoting disability inclusion with their emphasis on the principles of personalisation and support for disabled people’s organisations. In reality they will neither empower not improve inclusion for the disabled community.
At this time there are no jobs for anyone, not non-disabled people, not disabled people and not former Remploy workers, and especially not in the areas where the factories are largely based, thus targets for supporting the transition of individual workers into alternative mainstream employment are completely unrealistic.
The idea that the workers will benefit more from access to a support plan and personal budget than from continued employment in the skilled and salaried positions they currently hold is incredibly patronising and represents a step backwards in terms of equality and independence. It is insulting to claim that the factories and the wages of individual hard-working disabled people can no longer be afforded when millions of pounds can be simultaneously spent on help and support packages with little or no chance of success.
The overall aim associated with improving the life chances of disabled people has always been for us to be supported to lead ordinary lives. The question of segregation is not as cut and dried as supporters of the closures would have us believe as visits to the factories and time spent with the workers themselves reveals. The reality is that employment in the Remploy factories equates to an ordinary working class life. Government proposals for Help and Support initiatives to support individual disabled Remploy workers will benefit the organisations that are awarded the contracts to deliver the packages and fail to improve the employability of disabled people in general while robbing individual disabled workers of their livelihoods, replacing their ordinary lives with dependency on time-limited support without any future prospects.
The ideology of disability equality and inclusion does not justify the closure of the Remploy factories but it is discredited by the government’s exploitation and appropriation of the values of the disabled people’s rights movement. Whilst pursuing its agenda to smash the welfare state, with dire consequences for disabled people who depend on state support to meet our most basic human rights, the government is at the same time alienating ordinary disabled people from the principles of choice and control and personalisation for which our movement has fought so hard over the past few decades. Tools designed to empower disabled people such as personal budgets are becoming ever more widely associated with distrusted concepts such as privitisation and contract culture while being used to replace things that disabled people value such as in the case of the Remploy factories, self-respect, dignity and employment.
The list of the 36 factories that were announced in March to close were: Aberdare, Aberdeen, Abertillery, Acton, Ashington, Barking, Barrow, Birkenhead, Bolton, Bridgend, Bristol, Chesterfield, Cleator Moor, Croespenmaen, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Motherwell, Newcastle, North London, North Staffs, Oldham, Penzance, Pontefract, Poole, Preston, Southampton, Spennymoor, Springburn, Swansea, Wigan, Worksop and Wrexham .The nine factories to be subject to further consultation are: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Springburn, Barrow, Bristol, Chesterfield, Poole, Bridgend, Croespenmaen.
If you would like to post messages of support for the Remploy workers we will ensure they reach workers on the picket-lines on Thursday. To find out how you can support your local strikes please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.