The government’s attack on the disabled continues unabated – with the announcement that 875 jobs at the remaining Remploy factories across the UK are likely to be made redundant.
The quiet dismantling of the company began in March with the closure of 36 factories; now it seems likely that a further 10 will follow, with only an automotive business and employment services remaining safe.
The Minister for Disabled People, Esther McVey, said the factories, and a CCTV business, should be “freed from government control” in line with the recommendations of the Sayce Review, which said funding could be better used if spent on helping disabled people into work through individual support rather than subsidising Remploy.
The government has been involved in negotiations to transfer the factories out of state ownership and into the commercial sector, where it is to be expected that the disabled employees would be treated in the same way as the able-bodied, and it seems unlikely that provision would be made for their conditions.
The result is that many more factories have been judged as commercially unviable. Rather than take steps to improve the businesses, the Department for Work and Pensions is preparing to pronounce the death sentence on them.
An automotive textiles operation at Huddersfield;
Three other Remploy businesses are not commercially viable or have any realistic prospect of being sold as going concerns – E-Cycle, at Porth and Heywood, Frontline Textiles at Dundee, Stirling and Clydebank, and Packaging at Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland. These factories are now proposed for closure with all the staff working there and at the associated business offices at risk of redundancy.
Other sites are also endangered. These are:
A furniture business in Neath, Sheffield and Blackburn. This has potential to succeed but currently makes significant losses – and would probably have to be downsized. The official position is that it is doubtful that viable bids will be received and all staff are therefore at risk;
A marine textiles business at Leven and Cowdenbeath which makes significant losses despite an established market position and is not, we are told, sellable as a going concern. All staff are at risk;
Negotiations are starting, to see if the CCTV business can be sold. If not, compulsory redundancies will be made and all employees in the CCTV business are therefore at risk.
The Automotive business operating from factories in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby is considered viable as a going concern, and is being marketed as such. Employment Services is also safe. These are the only Remploy businesses that are not in the firing line.
The Department for Work and Pensions, together with the minister, Esther McVey, sneaked out this announcement in a written statement – presumably in the hope that it will go unnoticed.
The consequences will be devastating for the affected workers, their families and their communities – at a time of economic hardship, and a labour market that is extremely harsh on the disabled. They already face huge obstacles and are one of the groups at greatest disadvantage in today’s job market.
The government says it has put in place a package of support for employees, worth £8 million, if redundancies take place. This includes individual support for every employee through a personal case worker for up to 18 months; personal budgets to pay for back-to-work support; £1.5 million to support local disabled people’s organisations in communities, to support displaced workers; access to job opportunities in member companies of the Business Disability Forum; and the Jobcentre Plus Rapid Response Service will be available to deliver individual support to all those affected by redundancy, including non-disabled employees in England. This support will be delivered by PACE in Scotland and React in Wales.
Personally, I smell an infestation of rats.
Is it really coincidence that this announcement is made mere days after the government said disabled people were going to be put on the work programme?
Are these proud Remploy workers, who did not let their disabilities stop them from earning a decent wage and paying their way in the world, now to be subjected to the indignities of Workfare – stacking shelves for uncaring exploiters just to qualify for state benefits?
And what about those benefits? Will they have to claim Employment and Support Allowance, as people with disabilities – even though they had a job? Working at Remploy isn’t the same as working elsewhere. If they do claim ESA, they’ll have to go through the humiliating and dehumanising work capability assessment. Many of them may fail it (remember, only 12-13 per cent of applicants get into the support group – the others either have to make themselves healthy – presumably by magic – within a year or get signed ‘fit for work’ immediately). We have documentary proof that 73 people die every week, either while going through this process or afterwards, having been told they are ‘fit for work’.
And Disability Living Allowance is ending next year, to be replaced by the Personal Independence Payment. Claimants will, again, have to go through an assessment system run by Atos – the company responsible for the ESA system – and it is likely that the criteria will be harsh. DLA is already the hardest benefit to obtain and the government will want the new system to produce savings – meaning people on DLA now will not get PIP.
What happens then?
I think another letter to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights may be in order.