Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Remploy Consortium of Trade Unions

  The Remploy Trade Unions have previously expressed their support for more job opportunities for more disabled people in the UK and the elimination of discrimination against disabled people in the workplace and in the labour market as a whole.

  We also recognise however that there is much to do to change attitudes amongst employers as witnessed by the despicable actions of the AA who have deliberately targeted disabled people in a manpower reduction programme.

  It is clear to us that labour laws or tribunal guidance needs to be changed to avoid disabled people being targeted for redundancy; as is the need for government and local government to change their absence management procedures which penalise people who have a disability or serious illness through the "trigger" mechanisms they use.

  We support those disability organisations and trade unions who are pressing for disability leave to be introduced and we believe that a combination of positive measures such as disability leave and increased sanctions for those companies who discriminate against disabled people will lead to fewer people who have an illness or a disability being thrown on the scrap heap and having to face a lifetime on benefits.

  However, our biggest concern about developments in the current developments of welfare reform and services relates to the future of Remploy factories and their capacity to support more disabled people off of benefits and into work.

  It seems clear to us that someone in the DWP is supporting or promoting the closure/run down of Remploy factories as we have seen a continual decline in disabled people employed in factories over the past decade.

  We do not accept this is a merely a feature of market forces as a more imaginative and entrepreneurial spirit in Remploy with a management that understood markets and marketing could have changed the situation dramatically especially if they have the backing and support of the DWP to do this.

  There is now a significant opportunity for Remploy and the DWP to take advantage of changes in European Public Procurement guidelines and directives which allow public contracts to be awarded without the traditional process of public tendering being applied. These changes can if properly followed up ensure that Remploy (and Local Authority and Voluntary Body) businesses can benefit in two ways; firstly to increase work loading to increase employment opportunities and secondly to reduce costs through greater income generation.

  It should now become a priority for DWP and Remploy to follow up these changes and create more jobs and in the process reduce the individual cost of employing disabled people.

  There will be arguments from some people that Disabled People do not and will not want to work in Remploy factories and that they would rather work in "open" employment. We do not accept this argument at all and a recent survey of almost three thousand disabled people to be published in October will show that there is significant mistrust about the way disabled people will be treated in "open" employment.

  The same survey will show that almost unanimously disabled people in Remploy and other supported businesses do not regard themselves as segregated from society. In fact being able to work in a more supportive environment with a reasonable wage and proper trade union representation provides high levels of economic and social independence.

  We would direct the Committee to review the findings of a Working Paper published by an independent think tank (The Catalyst Forum) entitled "Mobilising Britain's missing workforce" as this paper clearly identifies that there are areas of Great Britain where there are very high percentages of people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit.

  An examination of those areas show that there is a very clear alignment with the locations where there are Remploy facilities; for example amongst the highest IB claimant areas is Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales where 20.5% of adults of working age were claiming incapacity benefits in August 2004. An examination of the Districts listed in Table 1 of the paper has an uncanny relationship to Remploy facilities. Equally the four British regions (Wales, North East, North West and Scotland) with the greatest percentage of the working age population claiming incapacity benefit are all Regions with a significant Remploy presence.

  This supports our view that properly managed and loaded with work Remploy factories can play a bigger role in persuading disabled people claiming incapacity benefit back into work.

  The DWP needs to recognise that people who have been away from the workplace for many years and who arrived in that position because of uncaring and inconsiderate employers will not be easily persuaded to return to work in the "open" labour market for fear of the same experiences happening again.

  Remploy has reasonable terms and conditions negotiated by this Consortium and can provide a more empathetic environment for people returning to work or for those experiencing work for the first time and it is our strong contention that Remploy factories should be built up not run down to support the Government's aims in reducing the number of Incapacity Benefit Claimants.

  We are looking for DWP officials and Remploy management (for who DWP have a responsibility for) to declare themselves in favour of this strategy and to demonstrate their support by directing national government and local government contracts toward expanding supported workplaces. We believe that this could be done quickly and effectively if there is a real will to achieve this.

  We do not argue that this approach should be taken at the expense of other routes to work in fact we support the moves through Remploy Interwork and New Deal for Disabled People but equally we do not believe that merely shifting resources from factory based employment (which we accept may not all be manufacturing) to the other routes is right either.

  The Remploy trade unions believe that Government needs to invest in a range of routes to work and to accept that employment in a Remploy factory is a legitimate working environment for those who choose this route.

  We support choice. That choice must include work in Remploy factories.

  We want to see more disabled people in work. That means expanding, not running down or closing, Remploy factories as an important option for disabled people.

  The removal, run down or discarding of Remploy factories will remove a significant element of choice for a group of people wary of returning to work and will make the process of reducing the number of benefit claimants much more difficult and time consuming as well as offering no viable route to work for those who need more support.

Phil Davies

30 September 2005

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