Labour has called for a halt to the closure of Remploy factories, which provide employment for disabled people, after it emerged that, despite ministerial promises to help sacked workers back into work, only 3% of those made redundant have found new jobs.
The government argued it could no longer bear the £68m annual losses racked up by the factories and instead would use the money saved to fund schemes to help disabled people into work.
However, following a series of parliamentary questions, Labour said 31 factories had closed with the loss of 1,021 jobs, and 35 disabled workers had found new work.
Labour pointed out that the then disability minister Maria Millerhad promised: “Any disabled member of [Remploy] staff who is made redundant will receive an offer of individualised support for up to 18 months to help with the transition from government-funded sheltered employment to mainstream employment.”
Miller’s successor, Esther McVey, has admitted only 35 former Remploy workers have found new jobs. Economists had warned that those made redundant would find it very difficult to find another job given the economic situation. According to the OECD, the likelihood of a disabled person in the UK being unemployed is twice that of someone without a disability. Official figures show that in the three months to June 2012, there were 554,000 unemployed disabled people, a 10.7% rise on the previous year and an 11,000 increase on the quarter.
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, said: “It’s no wonder only a handful of Remploy workers have found the new jobs they were promised. The work programme is failing disabled people, the work capability assessment is in desperate need of fast and fundamental reform, and ministers haven’t lifted a finger to help. Disabled people desperate for work have been cast adrift into the deepest jobs crisis Britain has seen in decades.”
Unions led a campaign against the government’s plans, culminating in a series of UK-wide strikes in September. Byrne said the government should now freeze plans to shut the remaining 18 factories. Ministers have said government subsidies to Remploy should cease by 2014-15.
Byrne said: “This government shouldn’t even think about pressing the button on phase two of their planned closure programme until they have sorted out the business of getting these disabled people back into work. These plans must halt until ministers keep their promises on jobs. Disabled people will be wondering if they were ever included when David Cameron claimed we are all in this together.”
Byrne said Labour had begun consulting disability campaigners on possible changes to the work capability assessment, the eligibility assessments for sickness benefit, which the government’s own adviser has said is “more challenging than it should be”.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said more than 60 jobs had been saved after a factory in Wigan had converted to a social enterprise this week.
McVey said: “The previous government started the closure of Remploy factories in 2008 as part of their failed £555m modernisation plan. They closed 29 factories, but had no systematic way of tracking what happened to the workers.
“We have put in place an £8m package of employment support for affected workers including one-to-one case workers and – unlike the previous government – we are tracking the destinations of the ex-employees who are choosing to work with us to find another job.
“It’s early days, but from our figures 63 people have already found work. However, we know that many more than this are in work and the Wigan factory has now re-opened as a social enterprise. They have plans to re-employ many of the ex-factory workers.”