Two of the country’s leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have been unable to say whether they would continue to back the closure of 36 Remploy factories if they lead to disabled workers becoming unemployed.
The position of Breakthrough UK and Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on the government’s planned Remploy closures became mired in confusion this week.
The confusion arose from a statement issued by Breakthrough, in which it said it had decided to speak out because the argument over the closure of at least 36 of the remaining 54 factories was becoming “one-sided”.
The closures have divided the disability movement, with some organisations and activists welcoming moves to close what they see as segregated, sheltered workplaces, while others argue that shutting the factories and making their disabled workers redundant cannot be right at a time of recession.
Breakthrough has supported the decision to close the factories, while DR UK’s chief executive, Liz Sayce, wrote a report on employment support for the government which called for funds used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed instead into more personalised forms of employment support.
Breakthrough said that calls to keep the factories open were “damaging” because the “Remploy model” was “an out of date concept” that “isolates people and prevents their integration into the wider world of work”, while keeping them open would only “continue to segregate disabled people”.
The charity suggested that Remploy factories should either be handed to user-led organisations, with “realistic investment, support and timeframes to establish sustainable businesses”, or Remploy workers should be found “new jobs, with appropriate support, training and qualifications guaranteed”.
But Breakthrough also said that it was “unacceptable” that disabled people’s jobs and livelihoods were at risk and that “as a basic principle, no disabled worker should become unemployed because of any proposed changes”.
Breakthrough has not yet been able to clarify whether this means that it would oppose the closures if they mean some disabled people are left out of work.
Michele Scattergood, Breakthrough UK’s acting chief executive, told Disability News Service that a “cast iron commitment to ensure disabled people have jobs is essential”.
But when asked today if this meant that Breakthrough would not back the Remploy factory closures if they led to some disabled people being left without jobs, she said she would need time to consult with colleagues.
She later said that Breakthrough “back the closures” and also “think everyone should be found a job”, but that “how those jobs are found is a matter for discussion and negotiation”.
But she has still been unable to say if Breakthrough would continue to back the closures if they will mean disabled workers becoming unemployed.
DR UK has also so far been unable to answer this question, although Neil Coyle, its director of policy and campaigns, said: “We can’t answer for DWP but hope all disabled people in factories attain new jobs.”
He said some workers would retire, as had happened after the last round of Remploy factory closures in 2008, but added: “DWP are responsible for ensuring disabled employees move into new work (or retirement), not Disability Rights UK. There is an £8 million budget for this.
“If 10 people lost segregated work but the money previously locked into Remploy factories then helped 80 disabled people into non-segregated employment then overall the policy is positive.”
Sayce said she wanted “every humanly possible vigorous effort” to be made to save any Remploy factories that could be successful in the future, and to ensure people “have the best conceivable chance of employment, if that is what they want”.
But she and DR UK have yet to say whether they would continue to back the closures if any disabled Remploy workers were to be forced into unemployment.
28 June 2012