This article titled “Axe sheltered workshops for disabled people, report recommends” was written by David Brindle, public services editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 9th June 2011 00.01 Europe/London
Disabled people should be treated as part of the mainstream labour force and should no longer be employed in sheltered workshops, a report to the government is recommending.
More people with disabilities could find jobs if existing funding for employment support was spent more efficiently, according to the report, which could spell the closure of the remaining sheltered factories run by the Remploy state agency.
The future of the heavily-subsidised Remploy factories has been a controversial issue. Under the Labour government, 29 units were closed, but a vociferous campaign led to 54 being kept open while concerted efforts were made by national and local government to give them more work. However, few extra contracts have materialised.
The factories employ 2,800 people, each subsidised by £25,000 a year, although about 600 are planning to take voluntary redundancy.
The report, published on Thursday, was commissioned by Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, from Liz Sayce, chief executive of the disability charity Radar. Sayce, a known critic of sheltered employment, found “a total consensus among disabled people’s organisations and charities that segregated employment is not a model for the 21st century”.
The report calls for:
• A doubling of the numbers of people able to use the government’s £98m-a-year Access to Work scheme, which helps employers adapt jobs and workplaces for disabled people.
• A shift of funds from sheltered employment to enable 100,000 disabled people annually to be helped into mainstream jobs. Remploy itself is aiming to support 20,000 people in this way by 2013, although about a third of the overall government budget for employment support currently goes to its factories.
• A rethink on spending on residential training colleges, which last year found employment for just 230 people at a cost of £78,000 each.
Sayce said: “The work aspirations of disabled people have changed. Again and again, disabled people – especially young disabled people – said they wanted the same choice of jobs as everyone else.”
Miller stressed there would be no cut in spending on employment support, but she said: “Disabled people are part of mainstream society and that means being part of the mainstream workplace. It is vital that government departments work together to realise the aspirations of disabled people and to support them to achieve those aspirations.”
The report is certain to trigger an angry response from trade unions representing Remploy factory workers. The TUC has warned that no factory closures should be contemplated until the economy picks up and workers stand a better chance of finding employment elsewhere.
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