Celebrating segregation?

I ain’t surprised that only 35/1000 ex-Remploy workers have found new jobs, despite the 18 months of ‘individualised support’ offered to them by Maz Miller. I can’t imagine the impact on those 965 unemployed people (and, as importantly, their families). Of losing that structure, social dimension, coherence, and wage. I dread to think how it will affect their sense of self worth, isolation and health. Especially with alternative employment looking an impossibility. Anyone who talks about ‘benefit scroungers’ is talking crap. Apart from a small minority, work is a central focus of human/social life. End of.

I don’t support (or celebrate) the idea of segregated employment at all. I support the right for people to work, regardless of their ability, and this work should be mainstream (whatever that means).  But I know that’s an idealistic and, in the current UK economic environment, totally unrealistic position.

Closing the Remploy factories was a financially driven decision. While throwaway and meaningless statements about decreasing segregation were made, it was about saving money. We are no nearer to an ‘inclusive society’ than landing on the moon, finding out what ’causes’ autism, or whether there is life on Mars. Shedloads of money are thrown at the latter two but very little is invested in workable solutions to increase and support learning disabled people in mainstream work.

Until people (learning disabled people, carers/family members, general public, policy makers, practitioners, government ministers) start to talk openly and realistically about the issues involved, nothing will change. It reminds me of my early research looking at the experiences of mothers, learning disabled children and going out in public places. I found there were limits to the tolerance you could expect from other people. The bar is commonly set way too high (for prissy reasons) but, even when lowered, some things ain’t gonna be acceptable. Until we engage with these (sometimes awkward, uncomfortable?) issues, and have some open, creative and realistic thinking about what can work and how, why force (longterm) unemployment on hundreds of Remploy workers?

Remploy and “loss making”

I’m in favour of inclusive work places. Of course I am. But in terms of inclusive work practices developing in the UK, I’d say we were at a similar stage really (ignoring the unsustainable fluff introduced every now and again) to 30 years ago. Nothing has really changed.  Yes, there has been a shift away from institutionalisation but there is plenty of evidence that despite living ‘in’ the community, learning disabled people remain outside of the community, isolated, often victims of hate crime and not in, or even close to, employment.

And employment, or work, is one of the central features of our lives.  Something this pig ignorant coalition government wilfully misunderstand, misinterpret and use as a political tool for their own purposes.

Today Remploy employees are striking against the proposed closure of 27 “loss making” factories putting 1421 people at risk redundancy.

Remploy provides employment opportunities for learning disabled people (and so much more).  Remploy employees go to work, work and earn money. Ok, it’s an exclusive setting, but, for the time being, the rest of the UK workplaces are exclusive too.  Exclusive to people without learning disabilities. Until these workspaces become inclusive, closing Remploy is going to leave most, if not all, of the current employees unemployed.

Many or most Remploy employees will no longer go to work. Structured everyday life, use of space outside of the  homes, journey to and from work and social experiences gained on a daily basis will be removed.  Many employees will be left with the option of day centres, staying at home or using direct payments to pay someone to take them out somewhere. We all like going out, but as a part of our lives, not as a sole feature.  There are also implications for family members who will have to readjust their own lives accordingly.

Many or most Remploy employees will no longer work. The benefits of working are documented in a ton of evidence gathered over decades. I won’t bother to list them here, but the health consequences of not being able to gain employment are also documented. The lack of structure and activity, and the emotional distress caused by the removal of  working lives, may have serious health implications.

Most or many Remploy employees will no longer ‘earn’ money. Yes, there will be some financial support but it ain’t the same thing. And no doubt there will be some shenannigens about placing Remploy employees in an inappropriate work category, leading to more punitive sanctions in line with current changes to the benefits system.

So what is going on here? Is the government closing these factories because they subscribe to the vision of an inclusive society in which learning disabled people are supported, welcomed and sustained in paid employment?

Bollocks. It’s all about money. The worth and value of learning disabled people is so low, that keeping (financially) unprofitable factories open, even if they offer some people employment and everything that comes with that, is not an option.  But “loss making” in this situation, cannot and should not be measured financially.

The DWP commissioned report into the viability of Remploy opens with the statement;

The views expressed in this report have been based on discussion with Central Management only.

Sums it up really.