Breakthrough letter re: Remploy closures


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Breakthrough letter re: Remploy closures

  1. 1. Remploy Closures – Breakthrough UK May 2012Remploy ClosuresThe current debate and campaigns about keeping Remploy factories open is indanger of appearing to be one-sided. There are plenty of voices advocating – quiterightly – for the disabled people who currently work at Remploy to not lose their jobs.But we believe the call to keep the factories open is potentially damaging: what ismissing from this debate is the determination to be rid of the sheltered employmentmodel that the Remploy factories represent, and that the disabled people’smovement has always criticised. This article is an attempt to fill that gap.Remploy was set up, post World War Two, through the 1944 Disabled PersonsEmployment Act. The first factory, in Bridgend, Glamorgan, employed manydisabled miners, though the purpose of Remploy quickly became to provide jobs forreturning disabled ex-servicemen and women. The factories manufactured a rangeof goods, and were generally regarded as providing a safe job for life.However, in the sixty years since Remploy first opened for business there havebeen massive changes. Firstly, the social context has changed: the focus now fordisabled people – for which we have fought long and hard – is on rights andindependence, on mainstream employment and inclusive education, on user-ledorganisations and organisations controlled by disabled people. We have rejectedsegregated provision.Secondly, the general economic context is vastly different to that of the immediatepost-war years; the strong manufacturing base that we had, and which supportedthe Remploy model, is no longer: it has been replaced by the service sector and theeconomy is also rapidly developing into an IT and communications base. Remployplanning and development has not really taken account of these changes.Thirdly, of course, the current economic climate is dire with ever more austerity onthe horizon, the decimation of welfare support for disabled people, and risingunemployment for the whole population. This third factor is often used - misguidedly,we believe - to justify the current calls to keep Remploy factories open.Disabled people’s organisations have opposed Remploy for the last thirty years,arguing that the Remploy model is an out of date concept, it isolates people andprevents their integration into the wider world of work. This is illustrated by theunderstandable views expressed by Remploy workers that they want to ‘stay in theircommunity’. There has been no apparent strategy of career development for thedisabled staff, nor efforts to support people to move on and up in their careers. Infact, it is arguable whether Remploy actually does offer careers to disabled people.The issues and motives behind the proposed closures are indeed complex, andthere are no doubt many different agendas at play: this is why we feel it is soimportant to take a rigorous and analytical look at the situation, in the context of our
  2. 2. Remploy Closures – Breakthrough UK May 2012struggle for rights and independence. The starting point has to be the recognitionthat disabled people’s jobs and livelihood are under threat, and this is just notacceptable, austerity or no.As a basic principle, no disabled worker should become unemployed because ofany proposed changes.In 2011, 48.8% of disabled people were in employment compared to 77.5% of theirnon-disabled counterparts.1 The Remploy modernisation should not add to thisdeplorable statistic. And the fears of Remploy workers and their Trade Unions thatthey will not be treated fairly in the wider world of work are well-founded: accordingto the Office for Disability Issues, disabled people are significantly more likely toexperience unfair treatment at work than non-disabled people.2 In 2008,19% ofdisabled people experienced unfair treatment at work compared to 13% of non-disabled people. In education the statistics are equally damning: disabled people arearound twice as likely to not hold any qualifications compared to non-disabledpeople, and are only around half as likely to hold a degree-level qualification.3We quote these statistics to illustrate that there is an underlying pattern to theposition of disabled people in society: this is not because disabled people areincompetent, or less clever, or more lazy than the rest of the population. No:disabled people as a group are excluded from the opportunities that the populationin general has access to, and not enough is done to redress the balance. Thisbarriers approach, or the social model, identifies the real problems – barriers anddiscrimination - and points the way to real solutions. So, put simply, the long termsolution is to tackle the discrimination that disabled people encounter. Not easy, weknow, and we need to revitalise that discussion nationally.But what about the here and now? Is the best solution to keep the Remploy factoriesopen? We believe not, that even in the current economic climate, to keep thefactories open is simply to continue to segregate disabled people. There needs to bea negotiated solution which safeguards Remploy workers and remains true to theprinciples of the disabled people’s movement. It could look something like this - a) A staged closure of the factories, and/or b) Consider handing the factories over to User Led Organisations, with realistic investment, support and timeframes to establish sustainable businesses, and/ or c) All staff to move to new jobs, with appropriate support, training and qualifications guaranteed, d) No-one to be unemployed as a result of the closures.These suggestions now beg the question ‘what can “the movement” do?’ Mostimportantly, we must have the debate: our movement is fragmented and we should1 Employment Labour Force Survey2 Quoting Fair Treatment at Work Survey 20083 Labour Force Survey, Quarter 2, 2010
  3. 3. Remploy Closures – Breakthrough UK May 2012strive to build alliances based on diversity and respect. Secondly, we mustremember our history, and the principles on which the disabled people’s movementis based and which we have used to push for changes in society and legislation.Crucially, we must jointly reconsider the wisdom of the simple demand to ‘keep thefactories open’ and balance the arguments; for example, when the recession ends,should the Remploy factories be closed then? Why, and how? Finally, we need to fitthe Remploy issue into a long term strategy proposal which addresses thediscriminatory policies and practices that keep disabled people’s employment levelsso low.Breakthrough has been asked to sign up to a letter calling for the Remploy closuresto be halted – available on our website: we have found ourselves unable to supporta call to keep the Remploy factories open but are keen to join with organisations tocampaign for a good outcome, for the Remploy workers in particular, and for thewider population of disabled people in