Remploy factories to close

Disabled people are tired of being painted in the headlines as scroungers and just ask for the individual support we need to have a fair opportunity to work alongside everyone else.

So says Phil Friend, Vice Chairman of Disability Rights UK (DRUK), talking to the Daily Telegraph about the government’s decision to shut 36 factories run by government-owned supported employment company, Remploy, at a cost of 1752 jobs. The decision is part of the government’s response to the Sayce Review – published last year – which looked at how the government could better support more disabled people to get into mainstream employment.

There are (at least) two keys reasons why many in the disability rights movement (and beyond) actively welcome the move to close Remploy factories. One is cold hard economics: “Last year Remploy, which accounts for a fifth of the Government’s £320 million budget for specialist disability employment services, lost £68.3 million. Ministers say that it costs the taxpayer £25,000 to keep one Remploy factory worker in their job each year, and yet the factory bosses are paying many of their employees to do nothing, because of a lack of orders.

The other is that, as Phil Friend’s comment illustrates, many disabled people see the Remploy model of segregated supported employment as patronising and out-of-date – believing that both government funds and mainstream employers should instead be focused on removing barriers that prevent disabled people from entering mainstream employement.

It’s at this cross-section of economics and disability politics that the issues for Remploy become particularly complicated. Len McCluskey, leader of the trade union, Unite, which represents many Remploy staff reacted to the closure by stating: “To choose to cut these jobs… is proof the Government has no intention of helping the most vulnerable in society.

While it’s not surprising that a union leader is opposed to his members losing their jobs, the broader view that disabled people are vulnerable and need looking after by the state contrasts strongly with the outlook of DRUK and other activists who believe disabled people have a right to support that will enable them to gain work on equal basis to other people, as opposed to special help based on their vulnerability.

Disability campaigner, Kaliya Franklin, is broadly sympathetic to the DRUK view in principle but believes it fails to take account of the likely reality of life in the job market for former Remploy employees once their factories have been closed. She asks: “What about the employment prospects for those Remploy staff now redundant? Did anyone consider that of the previous employees made redundant from Remploy factories only eight per cent have been able to gain employment since? Why were proposals from workers to merge factories with valuable, well equipped, viable manufacturing space completely ignored?

Whether or not we believe that Remploy’s current model is sustainable in the long-term or that its continuation is even desirable, the reality is that more than 1500 disabled people will soon be out of work and facing limited prospects for future employment. As the above quote suggests, governments of various stripes have a dismal track record in terms of helping people thrive in the world beyond supported work.

Many in the social enterprise movement are surprised that the government hasn’t seriously considered the option of supporting Remploy employees to move from supported employment to working for viable social enterprises.

Sally Reynolds, co-founder and former chief executive of Social Firms UK – the umbrella organisation that supports market-led social enterprises creating good quality jobs for people disadvantaged in the labour market – says: “For some obscure reason it’s missed mention thus far, but Remploy has been running a number of social enterprise pilot projects across the country for the last two years. These projects have shown that there are significant opportunities for those pilot project sites and possibly many of the other sites earmarked for closure…

Unbelievably, despite all of the work and effort put in over the last two years, the five social enterprise pilot sites are included within the round one phase of 36 factory closures, giving only a 90 day consultation period for exit strategies and proposals to be given consideration.

It’s possible that some of the businesses created by Remploy’s social enterprise projects may be able to continue if they secure investment from elsewhere but it seems strange these sites haven’t been given longer to enable an assessment of whether or not the model is sustainable.

On balance, it’s probably the correct decision, but in terms of the broader questions about how the people most disadvantaged in the labour market might find jobs, this round of factory closures at Remploy is a decision that raises more questions than it answers.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Remploy factories to close

  1. “Many in the social enterprise movement are surprised that the government hasn’t seriously considered the option of supporting Remploy employees to move from supported employment to working for viable social enterprises.”

    I’m never surprised to discover what government fails to consider, David.
    Neither am I surprised by potential funders. Big Lottery, for example.

    The lack of local employment opportunity for those with disabilities was pointed out in my Village SOS application for funding a local social enterprise, with the Remploy factory in our own village having closed 2 years earlier. In the short term, I was to join their ranks a few months later following my diagnosis for leukaemia. I joined those in rural locations unlikely to find alternate employment

    http://www.box.com/shared/uzirp4gu73

    There’s a bit of a Catch-22 when it comes to gaining the support of those with disabilities. Organisations supporting them can’t expose them to the risk of making an approach while at the same BIG demanded greater local stakeholder engagement than I could demonstrate.

    Our stance on those in greatest need is that:

    “Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether.”

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  2. Beatrice Bray

    It is quite right to consider the needs and wishes of Remploy staff but what about the views of other people with disabilities? Some of these people have had no employment help from the state or indeed from anyone else. There needs to be a balance here.

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  3. Just as social enterprise needs support to become mainstream, people with disabilities need support to enter and maintain mainstream employment. Propping up a separate, unsustainable sector does not lead to dignified work.

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  4. When social enterprise itself fails to offer the kind of supportive environment needed, when it denies some a voice and as a consequence denies others their life, it’s necessary to cross the ‘nice line’ again.
    http://www.ecademy.com/node.php?id=175046

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  5. Donny L

    This model of sheltered employment certainly is out-dated and creates a workshop environment but how do we no solve the issue of isolation for some of these ex-employees. The Remploy working environment creates a community of sorts, a support network like any working environment and one of my concerns is of people now disconnected from community as well as out of a job.

    When I was in the UK I did see a lot of employers doing great job hiring disabled people, but most were the usual big players (with a focus on disabled graduates). I do believe that the UK is further ahead than North America on employment with regards to services. North America (Canada) is still into giving people with disabilities ‘hugs’ over ‘rights’. It comes down to the service providers and employers low expectations of disabled peoples capacity. Their personal expectations of what disabled people can and cannot do.

    I’ve been in Canada for five years (heading back to the UK for good in 3 months) and have seen quite a few organizations with similar (smaller) type Remploy models rebrand to ‘Social Enterprises’ (partly because of funding) when in essence they are still sheltered workshops.

    Jeff Mowatt says just about everything I wanted to but great post and great blog.

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