Two-thirds of former Remploy staff in Wales out of work

Ian Lloyd has not been able to find work since last autumn when he lost his Remploy job after 31 years' service

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More than two-thirds of disabled staff who were made redundant from Remploy factories in Wales are not in work.

Figures obtained by BBC Wales show that 69% of the 280 laid off disabled employees do not currently have jobs.

The UK government stands by a decision to stop subsidising "non-viable" plants, arguing that the disability budget will be spent more effectively.

The Welsh government, which opposed factory closures from the start, called that a "callous approach".

The factories were established 67 years ago as part of the creation of the welfare state.

Start Quote

No decision is taken easily but because we know we've got to support all the 400,000 disabled people in Wales, this is the best way forward”

End Quote Esther McVey MP Disability Minister

An emphasis on getting more disabled people in mainstream employment rather than "government-funded segregated factories" was behind the UK government's change of policy.

Seven of Wales' nine Remploy sites - Aberdare, Abertillery, Bridgend, Croespenmaen, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea and Wrexham - have closed, leaving 280 employees out of work.

IAN LLOYD'S STORY

Ian Lloyd, 51, is partially sighted and worked in the Croespenmaen factory his whole adult life until it shut in October 2012.

His job applications over the last six months have led to a number of interviews but no work.

"We couldn't really believe it because we constantly had work up to the day that we actually shut. Two weeks before we were still producing work for customers," he said.

"If you're disabled you slowly will get disheartened," he said.

"I'm stuck in every day and I'm not used to this. I've gone to work every day for the last 31 years.

"I hope that with my disability that people don't just say 'he can't do the job' and instead say 'we'll take these people on.'

"Because it's going to be hard out there for disabled people to get a job when there's fit people still looking for work."

BBC Wales has obtained official figures which show that 192 people (69%) are not currently in work, while 88 (31%) have found alternative employment.

The Department for Work and Pensions has said that, of the 192 not in employment, 113 are on a variety of benefits and the others have either retired or decided not to engage with authorities.

Remploy said the figures did not reflect those people who have found employment but have not yet begun work.

An independent review by the chief executive of Disability Rights UK Liz Sayce formed the basis of the UK government's decision.

Ms Sayce recommended that the government's £320m budget for disabled employment services should focus on support for individuals, rather than subsidising factory businesses, most of which were loss-making.

"Remploy factories have faced a very uncertain future for a long time," said Disability Minister Esther McVey.

"Considering £70m were lost in those factories every year, we've decided to protect the budget and look after all disabled people, as well as those that were in the Remploy factories," she added.

Ms McVey said that the UK government was sticking by its decision.

"No decision is taken easily but because we know we've got to support all the 400,000 disabled people in Wales, this is the best way forward," she said.

"The Remploy factories have had an uncertain future for a long time: 29 were closed in 2008, no support was given, no personalised fund was given and nobody was ever monitored.

'Looking after people'

"We're not doing that. We're looking after people the best we can moving forward."

The Welsh government has opposed the Remploy factory closures from the outset and considers the decision to be "cruel, callous and entirely unnecessary."

ROSALYN BROWN'S STORY

Rosalyn Brown, 54, was a machine operator at Croespenmaen for over 18 years, and is one of the 75 former Remploy workers who have so far benefited from a £2.4m a year Welsh government scheme.

As part of the Employment Support Grant, the government will subsidise her wages for this first four years of her employment at the Diamondpak factory in Pontypool.

Happy to have found work and settled in the new company, she was nevertheless disappointed when she heard the factory was to close.

"I went home and I cried. I was worried that I wouldn't get another job," she said.

"It's all I've known is Remploy. When I had a job there they told me that it was a job for life, but it didn't work out that way."

Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty Huw Lewis said: "If the UK government thinks that this kind of harsh and callous approach is a decent way of approaching issues surrounding the disabled workforce, then I beg to differ.

"I've stood myself in the works canteen of my own local Remploy plant in Merthyr and seen grown men and women reduced to tears through fear and anxiety about their future.

"This recession and the austerity measures of the UK government have meant many things, but I've never seen a multimillionaire banker reduced to tears about their prospects for the future but I've seen disabled workers having to go through that experience."

A Welsh government request to devolve Remploy has been rejected by the UK coalition government.

Remploy is reviewing a number of commercial bids to run the last two factories in Wales, which employ about 140 people.

The sites in Baglan, Neath Porth Talbot, and Porth, Rhondda, are considered to have the potential to be commercially viable, but currently make losses. A decision is expected imminently.

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