It was recently announced that Remploy Edinburgh was among the factories that will close following the UK Government’s acceptance of the Sayce Review’s recommendations.
This announcement is yet another blow for supported employment in Edinburgh following the closure of Blindcraft last year.
It should come as no surprise that the decision has been met with a lot of anger, disappointment and deep concern from people all across Edinburgh and Scotland overall.
During a debate on Remploy, I highlighted the closure in Edinburgh and the lack of backing for supported employment in the area. The minister admitted that there was a patchiness across the country.
It is highly disappointing that the Scottish Government failed to step in and prevent the closure of Blindcraft in Edinburgh. I made a direct appeal to the First Minister to intervene and save Blindcraft, but despite this the decision was not reversed.
Alex Salmond recently visited the Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries manufacturing facility in Springburn and praised the staff, yet when asked last year he didn’t put his Government’s weight behind saving the jobs of the staff at Edinburgh’s Blindcraft.
I visited workers at Remploy’s Edinburgh factory at the end of last year and they were clearly concerned about the prospect of closure. Now those fears look set to be realised following the Government’s decision to end direct support.
The argument for these changes is that Government support should be targeted towards helping disabled people into mainstream employment rather than disability specific workplaces.
The UK Government talk about supporting disabled workers into mainstream workplaces and of course this should be encouraged where appropriate. However, particularly during these hard economic times, the brutal reality is that disabled people still face barriers to work.
Closing centres such as Remploy and Blindcraft is hardly ‘supporting’ people, as the UK Government claim to be doing.
The decision is not just a devastating blow, but it is entirely senseless and clearly shows that those making the decisions understand neither the special role that supported employment has provided over the decades, nor the current labour market.
Making a commitment to job growth should mean making a commitment to keeping people in employment.
Remploy was expressly created to increase employment opportunities for disabled people and to help them overcome these barriers.
The employees I met last year were working to fulfil contracts producing components for high-end consumer electronics, providing document management and scanning services and providing solutions to packaging needs.
These are real jobs that will be lost, that offered people with a range of abilities the opportunity to develop new skills and build confidence in a way that simply is not available in mainstream employment.
Of the 28 jobs at Edinburgh’s Remploy factory, 27 were filled by disabled people.
As was the case with Blindcraft, my concern is that closure of the factory will isolate the individuals affected and risk condemning them to life on benefits rather than in work. That will not help our economy to grow – it will do the very opposite.
I strongly believe in the benefits provided by supported businesses and want to see a sustainable future for the sector in Scotland.
There are opportunities through the award of public contracts and training opportunities but that requires decisive action from government at all levels.
Rather than simply removing funding for supported business we need to see a national strategy that values the unique contribution of supported businesses and creates the conditions to allow these businesses to thrive.
Only 50% of people with disabilities are in work, compared with almost 80% of able-bodied people. That indicates to me that there is a clear role for supported employment to narrow this gap. It’s not the whole story but it is a vital option.
In light of the loss of Blindcraft and Remploy, the Scottish Government needs to redouble its efforts to secure employment opportunities for people with disabilities and youth public procurement to ensure a market for supported employment, goods and services.
This is of the utmost importance and a clear, committed and dedicated strategy must be in place to ensure that there are jobs and opportunities available for all. The closure of Remploy has severely affected a lot of vulnerable people and this is no time for complacency.