A leading disabled activist has come under sustained attack from unions for writing a report they say has given the government the political cover it needs to close 36 sheltered factories.
There was overwhelming support at the annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference for the campaign to fight the planned closure of the Remploy factories.
The government announced in March that 36 of the 54 remaining Remploy factories across the UK would close by the end of 2012, with the loss of more than 1,500 disabled people’s jobs, while there would be further consultation over the future of the other 18 factories.
The announcement was 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 (DR UK).
Sayce called in her report for funds currently used to subsidise the factories to be ploughed into more personalised forms of employment support for disabled people, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme.
But Mandy Hudson, from the National Union of Teachers, told the conference that the Sayce report had “gone about doing the government’s dirty work”.
And she criticised “the completely cavalier way that Liz Sayce’s report sets adrift a whole set of disabled workers”.
The disabled peer Lord [Colin] Low also criticised Sayce’s report, and said its “highly individualised approach… seems to smack of elitism”.
He said: “For some time to come there is going to be at least a minority of disabled people who will need more specialist support.”
Challenged then by Les Woodward, Remploy convenor for the GMB union, to condemn the Sayce report publicly, Lord Low added: “I have publicly criticised it this morning. When I have future opportunities to discuss it I will make the same points and I am more than happy to make them at somewhat greater length than I have this morning.”
Disabled Remploy workers had earlier staged a protest – which included a live horse – outside DR UK’s north London offices.
Woodward told the conference that the stunt signified their belief that Sayce had been “used as a Trojan horse by the government to kick us out of our jobs”.
Activists from the mainstream anti-cuts movement UK Uncut later climbed onto the roof of the building and hung a banner which said: “Save the Remploy factories.”
Woodward said Remploy workers intended to “fight back” against the planned closures, and warned: “When you are in a war there are no rules, there are absolutely no rules.”
Brendan Barber, the TUC’s general secretary, called for the trade union movement to rally behind Remploy workers.
He said: “Workers have done everything possible to keep factories going as subsidies have been cut.
“What frustrates me so intensely is that Remploy has simply never been given a chance to succeed.”
He said there had been “chronic under-investment” by government, and an unwillingness to calculate the “true economic and social costs of factory closures”.
He added: “Slashing jobs at Remploy is not going to make a single job anywhere else. It is simply going to make a bad situation worse.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy and campaigns for DR UK, told Disability News Service it was “unfortunate” that Sayce had faced such heavy criticism.
He said: “Liz is not responsible for the government agenda and I hope everyone involved is aware we’ve called for a much greater resourcing of, and an awareness-raising campaign for, Access to Work.
“Criticising us achieves very little when we all need to focus on getting the best results for disabled people.”
He also criticised the decision to protest outside the DR UK offices. “It was a shame a small minority felt the need to interrupt the hard work of our small charity, but our position remains the same: segregation and wasting limited resources should not be encouraged.”
31 May 2012