OPPOSITIOn MPs have accused the Government of “throwing disabled people straight on the dole” after Ministers announced plans to close more than half of all Remploy factories.
Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said 36 of the 54 sites could close by the end of the year because they are unlikely to achieve independent financial viability.
The decision could lead to compulsory redundancies of 1,752 people, including 1,518 disabled employees.
The factories were set up in 1945 with the founding of the welfare state. They employ mainly disabled people in operations including furniture manufacturing and recycling electrical appliances.
Workers at a Remploy factory in Leeds – one of those facing closure – were said to be in tears at the news.
Elaine Newell, production controller, spoke of “devastation” and “tears in the canteen”.
She said: “We are completely and utterly devastated in here. We really didn’t think that the Government would do this to the disabled workforce here.
“There have been tears, people are so very, very anxious – they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said it was “disappointing” the Department for Work and Pensions announced the closures in a written statement rushed out after Prime Minister’s Questions, denying MPs the chance to quiz David Cameron on the “callous decision”.
He added: “Unemployment is going through the roof. Back to work schemes are sinking under the weight of spiralling unemployment. And the Government thinks this is a good time to sack disabled workers.”
Unions condemned the move as “barbaric”. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, these workers’ prospects of finding work are almost zero.”
The DWP said all disabled Remploy staff affected by the changes would get “tailored support” running up to 18 months – averaging around £2,500 per person.
A spokesman said the factories did not provide value for money, adding: “It currently costs the Government and taxpayer £25,000 each year to support each disabled employee working in a Remploy factory yet the average Access to Work award to support a disabled person in mainstream employment is £2,900.”
Last year, the independent Sayce review recommended Remploy should concentrate on helping people find employment in the open labour market.
Liz Sayce, who was author of the review and is the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The Access to Work programme must expand.
“We currently face a crisis of disabled youth unemployment – being ‘not in education, employment or training’ is twice as common amongst young disabled people, as non-disabled.
“Without individualised employment support there is a real risk they will become a lost generation, out of work for life, and that others will slip out of work unnecessarily.”
Factories at risk of closure in this region are at Leeds, Pontefract and Chesterfield.
There was a glimmer of hope for some workers after a Yorkshire businessman said he would be interested in taking over one of the factories.
Richard Kaye, chief executive of Huddersfield-based manufacturer Fired Up Corporation, plans to expand his Corby brand into the contract furniture market.
He has experience of turning around loss-making factories and making them profitable.