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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
North West: Integrate or segregate?
Michelle Mayman
The Politics Show North West

Remploy workers demonstrate
The workforce are passionate about their places of work

Remploy, the organisation that creates independence for disabled people through work, is in a predicament.

Increasingly, the company is focusing on finding disabled people jobs in mainstream employment through Remploy Interwork. But many of the Remploy workforce are unhappy about the potential of losing not only their jobs but also their security in employment.

Remploy was created in 1945 to give the war wounded employment.

Today, it employs 9,000 people, 6,000 of whom have a disability - they work in 83 factories across the country..

These industrial units manufacture goods for many business lines - from high end skilled book binding to manufacturing of chemical suits - an eclectic mix.

They are the biggest provider of school furniture in the country and make household cleaners and toiletries.

The organisation is annually fully funded by the Dept for Work and Pensions to the tune of 111m which equates to each factory job with Remploy costing 19,000.

Remploy also acts as an employment agency through its "Interwork" programme. Through this initiative, disabled workers can re-enter the mainstream workplace.

Remploy workers
There are so many mainstream jobs that are wholly suitable for a disabled worker

The average cost of an Interwork placement is 4,000, so this results in Remploy being able to place four people through Interwork for the price of one Remploy factory job.

  • Progressions from Remploy to unsupported employment in 2004/5 = 10
  • Progressions from Interwork to unsupported employment in 2004/5 = 1,673

This year, for the first time, the number of people found placements through Interwork will exceed the number employed in Remploy's factories.

A National Audit Office report in the autumn of 2005, recognised that some Remploy Factories were unsustainable.

Financial conundrum

Anne McGuire, the Minister for Disabled People, ordered a review to address these financial problems which was carried out by Price Waterhouse Cooper.

They came up with four options:

Remploy worker
Employment brings with it high self esteem

1. Maintain the status quo - do nothing and continue to annually subsidise Remploy to tune of 111m for the next five years.

2. Reduce the number of sites - close 37 factories immediately and of the remaining 46, close 19 by 2009. Interwork would increase from 3 to 70 by 2009.

3. Simplification by closing 58 factories by 2006/7... leaving only eight operational business units.

4. Interwork+. Close all units except those in textiles and expand Interwork throughout the country.

Anne McGuire dismissed Option 1 and Option 4, guaranteeing funding for the next five years and giving Remploy the chance to consider the options.

But, the results of a GMB survey found that 78% of Remploy employees felt they would not be able to work elsewhere if their job was to go.

The comfort zone

There is a section of society which believes that segregation of disabled people is wrong.

Stephen Duckworth from Disability Matters was a consultant on the Price Waterhouse Cooper review.

Remploy workers
Basket weaving is a thing of the past - these are meaningful jobs

He believes that segregated employment, like that offered at Remploy, sets low standards and allows disabled people to settle into a comfort zone with low aspirations.

He, as do many others, has a problem with the fact that the Remploy budget (111m per year) is the equivalent of a third of the amount of money spent on disability benefits and yet it benefits only 6,000 disabled people.

We will be discussing this dilemma on the Politics Show this week.

Did you know..?

  • There are currently 2.8 million people on incapacity benefit
  • Since 1998, disabled people's employment rate has increased from 43 to 50%
  • Disabled people make up one fifth of the total working age population in Britain
  • Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed
  • There are 10million disabled people in Britain
  • Eighty three per cent of disabled people are not born with a disability, but acquire it over time

Join Tony Wilson on the Politics Show on Sunday 01 October 2006 at 13:35 BST on BBC One.

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