The government has refused to say whether it will withdraw funding for sheltered businesses across the country, following last week’s decision to force the closure of at least two-thirds of the remaining 54 Remploy factories.
Last week’s announcement was part of the government’s response to a consultation on a review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK.
Sayce recommended that government funds currently used to subsidise Remploy’s factories should be “recycled” into other forms of employment support for disabled people, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, a recommendation backed by the government.
But she also recommended that the government should stop funding other supported businesses when their contracts through the Work Choice disability employment programme expire in 2015, with funding again fed into programmes like AtW.
But the government has so far failed to say whether it agrees with this recommendation.
Gareth Davies, president of the National League of the Blind and Disabled, part of the Community union, said he was concerned by the government’s silence.
He said he believed funding would be withdrawn, but added: “I hope not because it is going to put a lot of people on the scrap heap.”
Davies said he was “quite violently opposed” to segregation, for example in education, but pointed out that about 70 per cent of blind people were unemployed.
If the choice was between supported employment and unemployment, he said, “then obviously the so-called segregated employment is better than nothing”.
He added: “I am trying to be realistic. In an ideal world everybody would be working in open industry, but that is not where we are.”
Davies called for public bodies to use article 19 of the European Union’s public procurement directive, which allows them to reserve contracts for sheltered factories.
Jeremy Robinson, chief executive of the charity Clarity, which runs a supported factory in north London which employs 45 disabled people, said he was also worried about the government’s failure to comment on future funding.
He said he believed the government wanted to delay such funding decisions “in the hope that organisations like Clarity die and then they don’t have a problem”. He said other supported businesses around the country were contracting and closing.
He added: “Disability organisations are coming from an ideological perspective that everybody should work in the mainstream and frankly that is just not realistic.”
He said there were about 3,000 subsidised training places across the country for disabled people in sheltered workplaces.
Clarity receives £4,800 a year from the government for every disabled person it employs in its factory. This is the only subsidy Clarity receives, and Robinson said it was far below the £25,000 per person received by Remploy.
Another supported factory, Newco, which is part of Newham council in east London and makes windows, doors and kitchens, has 42 disabled workers who receive support through Work Choice. Some also receive AtW funding.
A council spokesman said: “It is a major benefit for our staff that they have gainful employment and that, regardless of disability, they have economic worth. They make things that people want to buy.”
He said that the £4,800 per person Newco receives through Work Choice for support and supervision is a “very cost effective way of helping disabled staff in the workplace”.
He said Newco had a “robust business model” and was “expected to break even”, but declined to comment on whether the council was concerned about the government’s silence on Work Choice funding past 2015.
A DWP spokesman said: “No decisions have been made re funding past 2015.”
15 March 2012