The government has announced that 36 of the remaining Remploy sheltered factories are to close by the end of 2012, with the loss of hundreds of disabled people’s jobs.
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, announced that 36 of the remaining 54 Remploy factories would close by the end of 2012, with 1,518 disabled people facing compulsory redundancy.
The government will consult with Remploy bosses over the future of the other 18 factories, Remploy’s successful employment services business – which finds mainstream jobs for disabled people – and about 30 contracts providing CCTV services, to examine whether they can be sold or survive as social enterprises run by employees.
It will set aside £8 million for “tailored support” for Remploy staff who lose their jobs, including about £2,500 of this money per person available for personal budgets they will be able to control themselves.
Miller also promised that government funds currently used to subsidise the factories would be “recycled” into other forms of employment support, including the Access to Work (AtW) scheme, while the total £320 million budget for specialist disability employment services would be “protected”.
She said the government would now “refocus support on individuals through services like Access to Work, rather than institutions like Remploy, so more disabled people can work in mainstream employment rather than government-funded segregated factories”.
The announcement was part of the government’s response to a public consultation on an independent review of employment support by Disability Rights UK chief executive Liz Sayce.
Much of the disability movement strongly supports the idea of moving away from segregated, sheltered workplaces, and towards more mainstream employment opportunities.
Several disabled people’s organisations pointed out this week that the £25,000 it costs to subsidise each disabled person in a Remploy factory could instead provide AtW support for eight disabled people.
But a string of Labour MPs attacked the decision to close the factories, during a heated Commons debate that followed the announcement.
Anne McGuire, the shadow minister for disabled people, admitted that the Labour government itself had closed Remploy factories, but said the economic situation now was very different.
She said: “In each constituency where there are factories at which redundancies will be made, there are tens of people chasing every job.”
And she added: “We must recognise the legitimacy of the position of the mainstream of the disability movement, which is that it does not like supported factories or Remploy.
“However, that does not mean that it is wrong to support people in these factories. Perhaps the mainstream needs to recognise that Remploy offers a real job in a supported environment.”
Remploy unions were furious with the government’s decision and warned that they would “not stand by and allow this attack to go unanswered”.
Les Woodward, Remploy convenor for the GMB union, who has worked for the company for 28 years, said he and his disabled colleagues were feeling “battered, angry and let down” by the “absolutely horrendous and horrible situation”.
He said unions would fight the closures, although it was too early to say what action they would take.
He pointed to support from the Welsh government, which said it was “profoundly disappointed” with the announcement and pointed out that Wales would be “disproportionately hit” by the closures, with seven Welsh factories to shut.
Woodward said the idea of disabled workers taking over factories as social enterprises was “a cracking idea”, but they would still need funding for at least five years while they became sustainable.
The government also said this week that funding for the national network of nine residential training colleges for disabled people would continue until summer 2013, while it works with the colleges to reduce costs and increase the number of disabled people they help into jobs.
8 March 2012