Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2054

Disabled workers protesting - but is Remploy the right answer? (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Disabled workers protesting - but is Remploy the right answer? (Pic: Jess Hurd/ »

Remploy isn’t working

I’ve been involved in supported employment for disabled people for over 15 years. In that time I have never seen a situation where a person with a disability could not be supported in real employment with the right support.

It is a travesty to suggest, as Les Woodward does (» Challenging Remploy closures , 26 May), that segregated employment within sheltered workshops is something to be applauded.

Supported employment – where disabled people receive help to work in mainstream employment – is a viable alternative that has been around for 25 years. But it is not as well known, because it has been starved of funding in favour of schemes such as Remploy.

The principles of supported employment are ones I would have thought a publication like Socialist Worker would recognise and applaud – self-determination, social and economic inclusion, freedom of choice, equality, and real employment in real jobs.

We should not allow hysteria from a few vested interests, unions included, to cloud our judgement. There are principles involved here – how can you consider employment in segregated factories to be anything other than a gross example of continuing inequality and discrimination for people with disabilities? What other group in society is treated in this second class way?

Obviously some disabled people feel secure in these settings, cocooned from the rest of society and guaranteed funding. But that does not help support the principle of social and economic inclusion for all.

We all benefit by being part of mainstream society. Self-esteem and self-confidence are greatly increased when people are seen to be contributing to all aspects of society, rather than being hidden away in segregated environments.

Of course supported employment means people will occasionally change jobs, and sometimes suffer periods of unemployment. But this is an argument for improving the support offered in mainstream society rather than for keeping segregated employment. Tying people to segregated workshops is paternalistic at best and directly discriminatory at worst.

Rather than arguing for segregation you should be arguing for more funds to be put into supported employment so that people with the skills to support people with disabilities can do their jobs effectively. At least the government has at last recognised this.

The research is absolutely clear – supported employment is more effective at supporting people into sustainable employment and is more cost effective than segregated employment.

Steve Leach, author of A Supported Employment Workbook

I’m disabled and I have worked for Remploy for 17 years, based at Birkenhead Central Cutting Unit on the Wirral. We were told by video that 43 Remploy factories would be closed down or merged.

This was a blow for a highly skilled workforce. I felt very upset – who else would take me on? I have four hospital appointments a year due to my disability. Remploy is a great company to work for – apart from the board of directors, none of whom are disabled. So as one united workforce, we say sack the board now.

Adam Jones, Merseyside

Fight for a living wage

The left has always called for large increases in the national minimum wage. But now there is a new slogan gathering force – the demand for a living wage.

The principle behind this is easy to understand. No one in full time work should receive poverty pay, as happens under the minimum wage. Authorities should determine the level of pay necessary to raise workers and their families out of poverty – the living wage level – and make this the basic rate.

The model for living wage campaigning comes from the US, where in the 1990s such demands began to spread like wildfire from city to city.

Broad coalitions were set up that researched pay rates and the cost of living in their area. These campaigns have inspired great passion and commitment, relying heavily on grassroots activists.

The living wage campaign began in Britain when the Unison union recruited hundreds of cleaners working in five east London hospitals.

Within months they had secured a historic living wage agreement under which pay and conditions for agency staff would be gradually “harmonised” with that of NHS staff working in the same hospitals.

One success led to others, and when Ken Livingstone was re-elected as London mayor in 2004 he too had signed up to the living wage agenda.

The London living wage – currently £7.20 – is a major step forward. It identifies wages as the key to tackling poverty in London, and sets the bar for pay bargaining in the capital.

Instead of engaging in sterile debates about the level of the minimum wage, socialists should seize this opportunity to follow the US model and set up living wage campaigns in their own area, as is already happening at some universities.

In every town in Britain there are workers on poverty wages, many of them victims of privatisation. The London example shows that we have the power to turn back the privatisation tide.

Nick Wall, Merseyside
Sign Nick Wall’s living wage petition at »

Red and yellow are the two shades of green

Maintaining a recycling routine and a limited carbon footprint – smart travelling, no plastic bags and so on – are very popular these days, and that’s a good thing.

But if industry is the main polluter of the planet – let’s say 80 percent – will our lifestyle changes have any serious impact on climate change? Why should I feel all the burden of saving the world? Is it only my fault?

Even if citizens cut their carbon footprint by half, there won’t be any significant change until industry faces a serious challenge. NGOs do some work, but it’s mainly the government that is expected to enforce environmental regulations.

Just being green doesn’t seem to mean very much. It’s whether someone is red-green (socialist) or yellow-green (liberal) that probably matters more.

George Efthimiou, Guildford

A slight gremlin crept into Kelly Hilditch’s article on nuclear power (» Labour’s nuclear power plan, 2 June). The amount of nuclear waste in Britain is far more than “1,600 cubic metres” – the government admits to 1.75 million cubic metres of waste either in storage or predicted to arise from existing sources. [NB this has been corrected online]

This would fill the Albert Hall five times. The nuclear waste issue alone should be enough for anyone to reject Gordon Brown’s flawed energy policies.

Martin Empson, East London

‘Home ownership’ is not what it seems

In your recent article on housing (» Gordon Brown has no solution to housing shortage, 26 May) you state – in all innocence, I presume – that home ownership in Britain stands at 69 percent, the highest in Europe.

This figure comes from the General Household Survey, but it adds together two categories – “outright owners”, some 28 percent, and the remainder who are “owners with mortgage”.

But people with mortgages do not actually own their homes. The deeds of the property are held by the building society and they are not transferred until the loan has been repaid.

It was Harold Macmillan who first used the phrase “property owning democracy”, an idea gleefully promoted by Margaret Thatcher. Since then the myth has grown that people with mortgages own their homes.

I wonder how many people taking out a mortgage realise that variations in inflation, loss of employment or any other vagaries of circumstance mean they could well lose their homes.

Thousands of “home owners” were dispossessed between 1986 and 1999 – a process which may well be repeated any time now.

Edward C Jones, Erith, Kent

Have a chat to your postie!

I was chatting with our postman the other day and asked if he was a member of the union. He told me that he was and that they were discussing strike action.

He took a copy of Socialist Worker, our leaflets urging public sector workers to fight together and a copy of the Post Worker rank and file newspaper.

Today he told me he had put the Post Worker poster on the union notice board and had found Socialist Worker very interesting.

I know that not many people are able to wait for the postman.

But when you see a postman in the street, why not hand him a paper. It’s easier and more personal than dropping it through the sorting office letter box.

Hazel Sabey, West London

Ask for a bun but get a fish

Thousands of people in Wales who voted for Plaid Cymru as a left alternative to New Labour are hopping mad.

The leaders of Plaid are trying to form a “rainbow alliance” government with the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

To have the hated Tories running the Welsh Assembly in partnership with anybody is an outrage.

If this “unpopular front” government comes into reality, people will say Plaid is like a cake shop where you go in and ask for a cream bun and are handed a fish instead. It leaves a bitter taste.

Phil Knight, Neath

Good riddance to Wolfowitz

As Head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz lectured the world’s poorest nations about “good governance” and the evils of corruption.

At the same time he was pulling strings to get his girlfriend a pay rise. His hypocrisy made his position untenable.

Though Wolfowitz’s removal from office was disguised with face-saving rhetoric, it couldn’t hide the fact that he left in disgrace.

I say good riddance. As US ambassador to Indonesia in the 1980s, Wolfowitz secured US military help for the murderous regime of General Suharto.

Wolfowitz was a leading architect of the “Bush doctrine” which openly declares that the US should use its military power to overthrow states that threaten its interests.

Most damningly, as George Bush’s deputy defence secretary, Wolfowitz pressed for war on Iraq. He has the blood of over 650,000 Iraqis on his hands.

Let’s hope the loss of his World Bank job and his exposure as a hypocrite are just the start of the punishment for Wolfowitz’s’ crimes.

Sasha Simic, East London

State secrets and standards

David Keogh and Leo O’Connor have been jailed for leaking a memo of a secret meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush.

Keogh said that he acted out of conscience because he believed the document showed Bush to be a “madman”.

The fact that the two have been jailed is a ghastly reminder of the double standards of the British state. Some people leak a document relating to a discussion between the two war criminals and they’re sent to the clink for it.

But a prime minister who orders unprovoked invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq leaves office with the prospect of making millions in book deals and lecture tours.

Thomas Graham, via email

Threats from an extremist?

I see that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, has threatened to deny communion to Catholic MPs that support a woman’s right to choose over abortion.

Imagine if a senior Muslim had suggested that Islam and supporting the war in Iraq were incompatible.

The media would be full of denunciations of “extremism” – yet O’Brien’s bigotry hardly raises an eyebrow.

Linda Pound, Glasgow

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Tue 5 Jun 2007, 19:11 BST
Issue No. 2054
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