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.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.