On Friday I joined Remploy staff from across Scotland who had gathered at the UK Government’s Scotland Office in Edinburgh to protest at plans to close Remploy factories and calling on the Government to think again.
I talked to Edinburgh workers, some of whom I’d met when I visited their factory last year. Their own stories highlight the reality of life for people with disabilities who want to work.
Donna has worked at Remploy for 19 years, David for 6 years, having previously worked at Edinburgh Airport, Jane for 27 years, David for 28 years and Richard who’s been there for 36 going on 37 years and also supports his elderly parents.
All of them have skills. All of them want the chance to work. They don’t want to exist on benefits without the chance to use their skills.
Ronnie, who’s just become a dad to twins, trained as a mechanic but had a motorbike accident. He wants to work but, as he puts it “there’s not many car mechanics in wheelchairs”. For him it’s about the chance to support his family and to have the dignity of work.
None of the Remploy staff I talked to want to be treated as special – they just want the chance to work. That means direct supported employment or a job with an organisation which is prepared to support their staff and see their abilities, not just their disabilities.
The Remploy staff I spoke to on Friday don’t believe that they’ll have the chance to work again if the Remploy factories are closed. The statistics collected on the employment destinations of staff who’ve previously worked for supported employment that has closed down bear that out.
Only last week I received a moving letter from the mother of a former staff member at Blindcraft highlighting the human reality of the loss of Scotland’s oldest supported employment factory.