Significant parts of the disability movement have backed disabled Remploy workers who are set to lose their jobs because of government plans to shut their sheltered factories.
Despite their continued opposition to the kind of segregated and sheltered employment provided by the Remploy factories, a string of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are demanding that the government abandons the closures.
They say that simply shutting the factories and making their disabled workers redundant is the wrong decision at a time of recession.
A letter opposing the closures, written by Inclusion London, has been signed by leading DPOs such as Inclusion Scotland, Disability Action in Islington, Cooltan Arts, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, Greenwich Association of Disabled People, Norfolk Association of Disabled LGBT People and Shaping Our Lives.
Leading parts of the disabled people’s grassroots anti-cuts movement, including the groups Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and the Broken of Britain, have also signed the letter, as have scores of unions, leading disabled activists, MPs and voluntary organisations.
They say in the letter, published this week in the Guardian: “Our goal and demand for inclusive employment must not be used to justify job cuts that will push these workers into poverty, exclusion, and isolation.”
The letter also calls for investment and support to turn the factories into user-led social enterprises, and more government investment in Access to Work (AtW) and other employment support, a commitment to tackling workplace discrimination and the right to inclusive education and training.
Although the UK Disabled People’s Council has not signed the letter, it also raised concerns about the closures this week.
Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, told Disability News Service (DNS): “UKDPC welcomes the government’s intention to close sheltered workshops like Remploy but that cannot just be done overnight, putting a number of disabled people out of work in a climate where there is a lack of job opportunities.
“Change has to be managed and we do not want disabled people to become victims of that change.”
But other leading DPOs are backing the government and insisting that the decision to close the factories is the right one, despite the recession.
Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ecdp), Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL), Breakthrough UK, and Disability Rights UK (DR UK) wrote this week to the Sunday Express – which is campaigning against the closures – to back the decision to shut the factories and invest the money saved in AtW.
It was last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, which suggested an end to government ownership and funding for Remploy, and the closure of factories which were “not viable”, alongside an expanded AtW scheme.
Ian Loynes, SCIL’s chief executive, told DNS that there was “never going to be a good time” for the Remploy workers to lose their jobs.
He said: “We believe it is a good move. We support the minister in her decision. To do anything else will result, we believe, in losing all arguments on segregated provision in the future. We will lose all the good work we have done over the last 30 years.”
He said that Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, had made it clear that all those disabled Remploy workers losing their jobs would be given individual support packages to help them find new, mainstream jobs.
Loynes accused some campaigners – particularly unions – of using arguments “of the past” to push their case, such as arguing that Remploy workers would face discrimination if they tried to find jobs in mainstream workplaces.
He said: “If you buy into that, you buy into a future that increases the likelihood of segregation and the likelihood of people being segregated and marginalised.”
Loynes said he believed that the range of opinions expressed about the Remploy closures within the disability movement was not a concern and instead was “something we should celebrate”.
Mike Adams, ecdp’s chief executive, said the closure plan was “absolutely the right thing to do” and accused parts of the disability movement of shifting its position over Remploy.
He said all of the disabled people and organisations that he witnessed take part in the Sayce review – apart from Remploy workers – had made it clear that the factories “should have closed 20 years ago”.
He said: “I don’t think the disability movement should be very proud of itself having moved its position.
“Disabled people in Essex were very, very clear that the Remploy factories should close. It is important that we show some leadership.”
He added: “At some point we just have to go ahead and do it, but make sure that there is a strong transitional process that supports the individual into other employment or other activities.
“Those safeguards have been put in place so I see no reason why they should not just do it now.”
17 May 2012