The Government’s brutal decision to throw disabled Remploy workers on the scrapheap is the latest attack on disabled people by the most hostile Government in living memory. Maria Killer Miller, the Minister for Disability, yesterday confirmed the closure of 27 Remploy factories, meaning the loss of 1,700 jobs.
Shamefully several disability charities, such as Mencap, have backed the factory closures. Charities claim the factories are old fashioned, as if their organisations, steeped as they are in Victorian paternalism, represent the cutting edge of social care.
This isn’t an argument about workplace segregation, which most people accept is not an ideal solution. But if we lived in an ideal world then disability charities wouldn’t exist. Society, meaning all of us, not government, would take care of the needs of everybody without busy-body middle class charity workers sticking their noses into people’s lives.
The debate over the Remploy closures is an argument about basic fucking humanity. The question is simply whether disability charities are content to destroy the lives of almost 2000 workers in the name of non-existent inclusivity in the capitalist workplace. And the answer to that is yes they are.
It is a sad fact that greedy employers discriminate against disabled people. The cruel and unnecessary closures of the Remploy factories will not change that one bit. All it will achieve is condemning 1,700 workers to the most brutal manifestation of the Welfare State possibly ever seen in a developed economy.
The charities supporting the closures have lucrative sub-contracts under the Work Programme, the scheme that is currently failing miserably at helping anybody find work. Charities no doubt hope that former Remploy workers will be referred to them, where under threat of benefit sanctions they will be forced into often pointless and inane ‘job search’ activities. Once again disability charities have pitted their own financial self-interest against the needs and opinions of disabled people.
These charities however may find themselves in for a shock. Under the welfare system as it currently operates, many former Remploy workers will be forced into making an application for the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support allowance (ESA). To do this they will need to attend a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) with poverty pimps Atos, a private company notorious for stripping benefits from as many disabled people as possible.
The WCA assumes that should a claimant demonstrate the ability to carry out any form of work then they should be placed on Job Seekers Allowance rather than ESA. Remploy workers are likely to find their time as the factories is used against them to prove they are ‘fit for work’.
Far from languishing on sickness or disability benefits, these workers will then be forced into the brutal workfare and sanctions regime currently inflicted on those claiming unemployment benefits. Jobcentre staff are not usually trained in disability issues. Disabled workers may find themselves sent on Mandatory Work Activity should a Jobcentre advisor decide they aren’t trying hard enough to find work. With a savage irony, disabled people could find themselves forced to work without pay in one of the shops run by the very charities who supported the Remploy closures.
Should they not find a job quick enough – and research suggests that almost no-one finds work after being declared ‘fit for work’ – then under new rules they could be sentenced to up to six months workfare.
If, due to sickness or disability,they are not able to attend everyday, then they will face benefit sanctions, meaning loss of some or all vital support. Should they not be able to show up to workfare three times then they could have benefits stopped for three years.
This is the hell that Liz Sayce, Chairperson of RADAR, who recommended the Remploy closures, has inflicted on disabled workers. The worst case scenario is disabled workers being stripped of benefits and forced into poverty and quite likely homelessness. As we have seen so many times in the benefits system, the worst case scenario very often turns out to be standard practice. The Atos assessment system, under which people are judged ‘fit for work’ only to die of their conditions shortly afterwards, is testament to that.
The fight to save Remploy is not over. Remploy workers have already voted to strike against the plans. With even some sections of the right wing press opposed to the closures it is possible, of sadly unlikely, that the Government may back down. Even if they don’t Remploy workers aren’t going anywhere without a fight which is a struggle we should all support.