Closure of Remploy factories will devastate the lives of hundreds of disabled workers

‘We’ve no chance. I can’t see myself working again’

Irshad Mohammed tells Charlie Cooper the closure of Remploy factories will devastate the lives of hundreds of disabled workers

Irshad Mohammed will always remember the moment he lost the job of 35 years at the Remploy factory in Acton, one of 54 such workplaces in the UK that specialise in employment for the disabled. On Wednesday afternoon, at 2pm, he and his colleagues were told that their factory was shutting down. Thirty-five others are set to close across the company, with the loss of more than 1,700 jobs.

“We thought there would be some closures, but never on such a scale,” Mr Mohammed, 54, told The Independent. “We thought that at least one London branch would stay open. But all three – Barking, north London and Acton – will close. I argued with the management on the day. I said: ‘Look at what you are doing. You say that disabled people should get work at normal factories but there is widespread unemployment out there. There are students with degrees who cannot get jobs. We will have no chance’.”

The closure of Remploy factories, coupled with plans to move the remaining centres away from government subsidy, marks a point of departure for the way the state helps disabled people find employment. Remploy, whose factories have provided work for thousands of disabled people for nearly 70 years, was one of the founding institutions of the modern welfare state. The first factory opened in 1946, making furniture and violins. Today the firm employs more than 2,400 disabled people – one of the largest such employers in the UK. Its factories make school furniture, motor components and chemical, biological and nuclear protection suits.

The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, plans to take funding out of such institutions and focus her £320m annual employment budget on supporting disabled people individually, in the form of Access to Work spending. The move follows a review by the Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, Liz Sayce, which urged the Government to end the segregation of the job market and help the disabled into mainstream work.

For 1,518 disabled Remploy employees facing redundancy, the fear is that promises of support will be not enough to help them back to work, in a market where they will have to compete with 2.7 million jobseekers.

Mr Mohammed, who is disabled and in a wheelchair, is a Quality Assurance Officer at the Acton Remploy factory. He remembers similar promises made by the Labour government when London’s fourth Remploy factory, in Brixton, closed in 2008. “From 50 people who worked at that factory, only four found a job that I know of. And they had to do it themselves,” he said. “Three people from Brixton attempted suicide. One had a breakdown – employers didn’t want him because of his disability.

Mr Mohammed has a wife and two children. His work at Remploy allowed him to be a breadwinner for his family. “I came to work for Remploy straight from college,” he said. “I worked in electronics and computing. I put a lot of effort in and the work allowed me to live a normal life like a normal person. I paid the bills and I got married and had children. Now, I will lose my job and be forced to live on benefits. Life’s going to change completely and I can’t see myself working again.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that £8m would be made available for former Remploy workers to help pay for retraining, and pledged that every employee made redundant would have an individual caseworker.

Disability Rights UK advocates the Access to Work fund, which its says provides essential support and technology. It also costs less than subsidising Remploy – which currently costs the Government £68.3m a year – with an average spend per person of £2,900, compared with £25,000 per person to subsidise Remploy. The DWP also pointed out that since 2008, the factories have made a loss of £255m.

But such financial rationale counts for little on the factory floor. Mr Mohammed said that employees felt “cheated” by the Government and Remploy’s management. “They could have made changes,” he said. “If money’s not being spent properly, change the management, do things in a different way, but make sure Remploy stays in place to provide jobs for disabled people.

“I have no faith at all when the Government say they will help disabled people into other jobs. The future looks blank.”

In numbers: Remploy

1,752 number of people who could lose their jobs, 1,518 of whom are disabled

36 number of factories set to close, out of a national network of 54

£255m the figure that the Government claims Remploy has lost since 2008

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/

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