Remploy is an organisation funded by the UK Government with the express aim of increasing employment opportunities for disabled people and those who experience barriers to work.
The organisation began life back in 1945 supporting disabled ex-miners and service personnel returning from World War II. Today the organisation is split into two sections – employment services providing support to help disabled people into work and enterprise businesses encompassing 54 factories UK wide supporting more than 2,300 jobs.
However, the future of the organisation is now threatened because of proposals being considered by the Coalition Government. The proposals, contained in the Sayce Review, recommend an end to government support for Remploy and to encourage the organisation to seek alternative funding models.
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 wherever possible. However, particularly during this time of recession, the brutal reality for many people with disabilities is that they face significant barriers to work.
Speaking to workers in Edinburgh it is clear they are concerned about the implications of the UK Government’s proposals on jobs.
The employees I met today were working to fulfil contracts Remploy has producing components for high end consumer electronics, providing document management and scanning services and providing solutions to packaging needs.
These are real jobs, offering people with a range of abilities the opportunity to develop new skills and build confidence in a way that simply would not be available in mainstream employment.
The Government’s proposals will simply isolate individuals and condemn them to life on benefits rather than in work. That will not help our economy to grow.
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 that could sustain Remploy and make it a viable business. That means 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.
Last week the Scottish Parliament debated the issue of support for veterans and Labour MSPs were successful in passing an amendment acknowledging the importance of supported employment for disabled veterans.
Remploy is all the more important to Edinburgh and the Lothians now that Blindcraft factory has been allowed to close.
I will be continuing to offer support to workers and trade unions moving forward as the Government considers the findings of its consultation.