1,700 disabled workers to lose their jobs as government cuts subsidy

State-owned Remploy factories to close, in a move that Clegg condemned as "brutal" while in oppositi

The disabled have had a rough ride under the coalition, with welfare reform cutting their benefits and support. Now, ministers have announced that more than 1,700 disabled people will lose their jobs this year, because the government is withdrawing its £68m subsidy from Remploy, the disability employer.

Set up to provide jobs for injured servicemen after the second world war, Remploy runs 54 factories which employ staff with a range of physical and mental difficulties. The withdrawal of government support means that 36 of the 54 factories will close. The remaining 18 will be put up for sale, meaning that hundreds of employees there also face an uncertain future.

This is the conclusion of a battle that begun under Labour: the factories have been operating at a loss for years. In opposition, however, both the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, pledged to keep the factories open. Here is Clegg railing against the "sheer brutality" of the proposed closure in 2007:

 

It is a difficult issue. The government's line is that in the 21st century, it is no longer appropriate for disabled people to work in isolation. The Disability Minister, Maria Miller, said that the multimillion pound subsidy to Remploy could be better spent on other programmes to help the disabled into work. She highlighted figures showing that the annual cost of supporting a Remploy worker was £25,000 a year, as compared to the £2,900 cost of the Access to Work scheme, which gives technology and assistance to firms employing disabled workers.

Yet the timing of this move certainly makes it appear rather cruel, and there is no evidence that sufficient efforts are being made to get disabled people into work. Last week, the welfare reform bill passed, cutting much-needed disabled benefits. Across the UK, unemployment is rising. Already, around 50 per cent of disabled people are unemployed, compared with less than 10 per cent in the rest of the population. As Unite leader Len McCluskey said: "In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, these workers' prospects of finding work are almost zero."

The workers made redundant by the Remploy closure will be guaranteed support for 18 months, in a package worth £8m. But money is not the only issue. For many disabled people, the right to work and be a part of society is just as important. Cuts to disability living allowance already threaten the ability of many disabled people to pay for transport to get to work. It seems unlikely that Remploy will be replaced with adequate measures to provide opportunities for this group. Even in the boom times, those with mental or physical disabilities struggle to find employment. With five people for every vacancy in the UK, it is difficult to see many firms making the effort to employ these workers. Remploy certainly was not perfect, but its closure -- with no clear replacement -- is yet another step in the wrong direction.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Tim Shipman's Diary

The Sunday Times political editor on poker, pasta – and being called fat by Andrew Marr.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was having dinner with my wife at Padella (which serves the best pasta in London) when the phone rang. It was an irate David Davis. “You’re reporting that a friend of mine has said Philip May wants Theresa to quit. It’s not true. I don’t even know Philip May.” I calmly explained that I wasn’t accusing him and I had his friend on tape. “Who was it?” he asked me. I wasn’t saying. “Well, it’s not bloody helpful,” the Brexit Secretary said before hanging up.

The following day, I woke up to watch Philip Hammond explain to the BBC’s Andrew Marr why his cabinet colleagues had leaked me details of how the Chancellor had branded public-sector workers as “overpaid”. “I don’t know who [Tim Shipman’s] sources are,” he said, after inaccurately suggesting that I was being fed information as part of some Brexiteer conspiracy to discredit the cabinet’s leading Remainer.

On Monday, I did an interview with Eddie Mair in the back of a beer garden in Ireland, where I’m playing cricket. In reality, the leaks had much more to do with colleagues irritated at Hammond’s sometimes grating behaviour. Word reaches me that he regards it all as very unhelpful. It seems odd after 16 years in political journalism to have to say this, but we’re not here to be helpful. It might make sense if our politicians gave us less to write about. Over the past three years, they have delighted us enough.

Back for seconds

Voter fatigue is a recognised problem. No one talks about journalist fatigue. We all hope that Theresa May rejuvenates on her Swiss walk (perhaps regenerating into Jodie Whittaker). Thanks to the decision she took when she last went walking, I’m facing the obliteration of another summer holiday writing a second political tome covering the period since my Brexit book, All Out War, up to the general election. What looked at one stage like the boring second album is now a rip-roaring tale of hubris and nemesis. When I asked for title suggestions on Twitter, there were plenty of votes for “Mayhem” and “Mayday”. The most imaginative was: “The Snarling Duds of May”. Sadly, it’s too long for my publisher.

Catching the big fish

The new-found attention from writing books is a double-edged sword. To my delight, then embarrassment, Andrew Marr referred to me twice as “the doyen” of the print lobby. “We keep trying to stop him,” Marr’s editor, the redoubtable Rob Burley, confided at a rival magazine’s summer party. The following week, Marr said: “The biggest fish in the pool, if only physically, is Tim Shipman…” I got a text from a special adviser friend asking: “Are you paying him?” I pointed out that Britain’s best-known political interviewer had just called me a fat bastard live on national television.

New blood

I make my debut on BBC2’s Newsnight alongside Ash Sarkar of Novara Media, one of the new websites that cheerlead for Jeremy Corbyn. She is nerveless and fluent in her mid-twenties, when I was a tongue-tied naif. People who get the Corbyn phenomenon are rightly getting more airtime. Off the air, she tells me that she’s a “libertarian anarchist” and then asks me where I live. “Are you going to smash it up?” I ask nervously. She smiles. Ash’s main concern is to paint the town red in the Saturday-night sense. A Labour MP draws attention to her Twitter biog, which concludes: “Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion. Luxury communism now!” Bravo. I think…

Brexit gamble

I was greatly cheered by the induction in the Poker Hall of Fame of the late Dave “Devil­fish” Ulliott, the player who did the most to create the TV and online poker boom in Britain. Westminster has a few useful card sharps – Paul Stephenson, formerly of Vote Leave, among them – but I don’t know any politicians who play. By contrast, the US presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were all accomplished poker players.

When I worked in the US, I interviewed a member of Barack Obama’s poker circle when he was a state senator in Chicago. The cautious, composed and occasionally bold player he described was the mirror image of the politician we came to know. His Republican rival in 2008, John McCain, preferred the chaotic gambling of the craps table and his erratic campaign reflected that. Too many of the current cabinet seem to be dice men. What we wouldn’t give for Devilfish running the Brexit negotiations.

Blundering through

Anyone who has ever dealt with McCain would have been saddened by the news that he is suffering from brain cancer, but his resilience almost makes you feel sorry for the tumour. McCain is undoubtedly the most media-friendly politician I have ever met. When I travelled on his plane in 2008, he took every question from the foreign press pack and made us feel welcome. Through him, I also met Steve Duprey, the former boss of the New Hampshire Republicans. He was fond of explaining Duprey’s first law: “In politics, before considering malevolence, always assume incompetence.” I have had much cause to remind myself of that over the past three years.

Paranoid android

If you are looking for a summer read, I recommend Jonathan Allen’s and Amie Parnes’s Shattered, a great insider account of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 presidential election effort. It shows how a flawed candidate with little ability to connect with the public presided over a paranoid regime of advisers engaged in Shakespearean bloodletting that led to them coming a cropper when fighting a charismatic populist. On second thoughts, you could always wait to read my second book this autumn. 

Tim Shipman is the political editor of the Sunday Times. “All Out War” is now available in paperback (William Collins)

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue