A leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has called on the disability movement to rally behind Remploy workers and fight the government’s planned closures of at least 36 factories, and the loss of more than 1,500 disabled people’s jobs.
Inclusion London is calling on other DPOs, disabled people and activists in London to sign a letter opposing the planned closures.
The letter – which will be used for campaigning purposes – was due to be read out at a meeting organised this evening (Thursday) by Remploy workers in central London.
Inclusion London says in the letter that the closures “will effectively put these disabled workers on the scrapheap”, because of the recession and government cuts to benefits and other support for disabled people.
The letter – which will soon be posted on Inclusion London’s website – warns that up to 40 people are chasing every job in some Remploy factory areas, while Inclusion London is hearing of “increasing numbers of disabled people who in despair are taking their own lives after loss of benefits”.
The letter calls for the necessary investment and support to turn the factories into viable user-led social enterprises, as well as more government investment in Access to Work and other employment support, a commitment to tackling workplace discrimination and the right to inclusive education and training.
It adds: “We reject the view that the way to respond to discrimination and exclusion in the workplace is through segregated employment but we also reject the view that if we are against segregation we must go along with these job cuts and closures.
“We say no to any cuts that will push even more disabled people into poverty and isolation.”
Since the government announced the closures early last month, some DPOs have backed its plans, arguing that it was not right to continue to fund sheltered, segregated workplaces.
But Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “This is a cut. It isn’t about inclusion. We shouldn’t let the government justify this in the name of inclusion.
“You can be against all segregation and also oppose these cuts and job losses.”
She accepted that the disability movement has been divided on whether to support the closures, but she said: “What we need is a dialogue. This is us putting an alternative view forward which hopefully will get a debate going. That’s what we need.”
The planned closures were part of the government’s response to a consultation on last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK.
Meanwhile, the government announced today (26 April) that it was offering up to £10,000 worth of “expert support” to Remploy workers who want to put together business plans to take over their factories.
Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said: “We want to encourage as many employees to come forward as possible. This money will help support employees to put together credible bids to safeguard the jobs of disabled people.”
But Les Woodward, Remploy convenor for the GMB union, dismissed the offer as part of “the government’s propaganda machine”, and said the money would merely benefit solicitors, consultants and financial experts, rather than Remploy workers.
On Friday (20 April), hundreds of disabled Remploy workers and other campaigners took part in demonstrations over the closures, organised by the Remploy unions GMB and Unite.
The protests took place outside Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Sheffield and London, and the offices of the secretary of state for Scotland in Edinburgh.
Linda Menzies, a union rep at Remploy’s Cowdenbeath factory, attended the Edinburgh demonstration.
She said: “People are never going to work again [if the factories close]. They have worked their life at Remploy and don’t know anything else. They won’t have the support they have at Remploy.
“It’s their life. They don’t speak to anybody outside Remploy. If they send them on holiday for a week they don’t speak to a single soul.
“What’s going to happen to these people? Are they going to be completely forgotten about?”
26 April 2012