The government’s decision to close 36 of 54 remaining Remploy sites will throw 1,752 people out of work. All but 234 of them are disabled.
The closures, announced last month in the House of Commons, are the second stage of an attempt to shut all Remploy factories.
The company was set up to provide sheltered employment for disabled people. Successive governments have tried to run it down.
New Labour shut 28 factories in 2008. Ray Ludford worked at the Brixton factory until it closed.
“They deliberately managed our factories for closure,” he said. “They always knew that if they got away with it then, they could come back for more.”
Remploy workers struck against the closures in York and Merseyside. Alison was a GMB shop steward at the York factory.
“The response we’ve had from the public has been brilliant,” she told Socialist Worker at the time. “The only people who don’t seem to care are the government and the Remploy directors.”
Only 6 percent of the 2,500 disabled workers who lost their jobs then have found work since. Former shop steward Peter was one of those who didn’t.
“If you say on a job application form that you’re disabled, you can guarantee it’ll go straight in the bin,” he explained. “Now we have to fight twice as hard—not only to find work, but to do it in a climate of cuts.”
Julie, a Unite rep at the Barking Remploy factory, said, “People work here because they won’t get a job elsewhere—and because you’re treated with dignity and respect. We’re skilled people producing a wide range of products.”
The Remploy closures are just one aspect of the Tories’ attack on working class disabled people. As well as slashing Remploy jobs they are cutting the funding that supports disabled workers in finding “mainstream” jobs.
They are slashing benefits and have contracted private firm Atos to put claimants through humiliating tests to see if their payments can be discontinued.
Les, the national GMB convenor for Remploy workers, described the cumulative effect for disabled people.
“If you’re working you’ll be forced out of your job, if you’re unemployed you’ll be forced onto a workfare scheme and if you’re unable to work Atos will strip away your dignity,” he said.
More and more people are recognising the brutality of these attacks—and support a fightback. Unite reported last week that its branches had donated close to £10,000 for Remploy workers.
Everyone must support Remploy workers in their struggle to save their factories.
What are the Remploy jobs worth?
Tory disabilities minister Maria Miller claims that the government can’t afford the cost of £25,000 per Remploy job a year. For Rob Murthwaite from Disabled People Against Cuts, this is no excuse.
He says the money is “a drop in the ocean compared to bank bailouts, bonuses and the vast sums of tax avoided by the rich.”
And while Remploy employed 5,217 workers last year, its annual report notes it also “found 20,079 jobs in mainstream employment for disabled people”. Counting these jobs means the Remploy jobs cost less than £4,000 per person.
Unemployment makes it worse
Unemployment reached a 13 year high last month at 2.67 million. Britain’s ten million disabled people are disproportionately affected.
Only half of working age disabled people are in employment. This drops to 15 percent for people identified as having severe or specific learning difficulties and 10 percent for those with mental illness issues.
Some 76 percent of disabled people with higher education qualifications are in work. But of those who have no qualifications, disabled people are 37 percent less likely to be in work than non-disabled people.
Cuts hit disabled workers hard
A disproportionate number of disabled people who work are in the public sector. This means that disabled workers will be disproportionately affected by the Tories’ spending cuts.
And discrimination in the workplace means that they are often targeted as the first to go when it’s time for redundancies.