Delegates at the TUC’s recent disability conference were warned to beware of employers marking out disabled people for redundancy, reports Sunil Peck
With unemployment edging towards three million, delegates at the TUC’s recent annual disability conference in London expressed fears about the recession and its likely consequences on disabled people.
Mark Fysh, Chair of the TUC Disability Committee, said disabled employees would be first in the firing line as companies used lay-offs to cut costs, and warned the recession would make it even harder than usual for disabled people to find new jobs.
Fysh, a branch secretary for the union Unison, urged colleagues to make sure that sickness procedures were not used by employers to oust disabled people, and that any job losses were for genuine reasons and after reasonable adjustments had been made by employers.
The TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady warned delegates that unless unions challenged the unfair targeting of disabled employees, there was a risk of economic hardship.
She also foresaw a reversal of the slow, painful progress made over the past decade in increasing the employment rate among disabled people.
Ms O’Grady said: “Places like South Wales and the North East of England are still picking up the pieces of the Thatcher recessions of the early ’80s and ’90s, with a higher number of incapacity benefit claimants than anywhere else, and we simply cannot afford a repeat performance this time.”
Delegates also raised concerns about the consequences of the Government’s proposals for reforming the welfare system.
Echoing long-held fears among disabled activists, Ms O’Grady said that the Government had pandered to tabloid rhetoric about spongers and layabouts instead of addressing the needs of disabled people.
She stressed the TUC’s determination that disabled people would not be “victimised” by welfare reforms.
But Mark Fysh injected a note of optimism when he said that the widespread disillusionment with the political system could put disabled people in a position of power.
“There are enough disabled people in the country to make a political difference. If MPs want to be in parliament, they are going to have to prove their worth to the country.”
Frances O’Grady pledged that the TUC would continue to fight for justice for employees of the Remploy factories.
Her comments came in the wake of the news that Remploy managers had shared bonuses worth more than £1.5 million at a time, according to unions, when factory closures have left thousands of disabled people out of work.
As Mark Fysh put it, “Given the fact that so many disabled people have lost their jobs, the award of the bonuses was appalling.”