Just nine of the 36 sheltered Remploy factories that were set to be shut in the first wave of a government closure programme could be kept open under new ownership, a minister has announced.
Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, told MPs this week that the government had received 65 “proposals” to take Remploy factories out of its control.
Detailed bids for the nine factories will now be considered, with the final outcomes likely within a couple of months.
Miller said the government had offered a wage subsidy of £6,400 for each disabled member of staff that was kept on, with expert support of up to £10,000 for each employee-led bid.
Miller said the government had also provided £8 million to guarantee “tailored support” for up to 18 months for every disabled person affected, was working with the Employers Forum on Disability to secure job opportunities, and had added £15 million to the Access to Work budget as a result of the closures.
She said that the closures would allow the government to support thousands more disabled people into mainstream work.
Miller also promised that there would be a “comprehensive system” to keep track of how many former Remploy workers found new jobs.
But Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “Even if she is minded to make this decision, doing so in the current economic climate makes it look as if she is abandoning her duty of care to disabled employees who have given many years of service to a company that the government own – a company that this country owns.”
The Labour MP Ann Clwyd added: “When Margaret Thatcher was schools secretary she was known as ‘Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher’. You, minister, are now known as ‘Maria Miller, Remploy killer’. Are you proud of that?”
But the disabled Conservative MP Paul Maynard said that young disabled people had “higher aspirations than to spend 40 years of their working lives in segregated employment, shut off from society, being sheltered – what a ghastly, offensive phrase that is”.
He added: “Segregated employment has no role in today’s society. What we want is equality of employment rights.”
Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, a member of the Commons work and pensions committee, accused Miller of “effectively setting off one group of disabled people against another”, and added: “Surely it is not necessary to have some people lose the jobs that have given them so much in their lives in order to help other disabled people.”
Remploy unions announced last week that disabled workers had voted in favour of industrial action over the planned closures, with the 2,800 remaining disabled workers set to stage two 24-hour strikes later this month, on 19 and 26 July.
12 July 2012