Thursday, March 08, 2012

Con Dems' two-fisted attack on disabled workers

REMPLOY giants like the two good-natured fellows here helping collect signatures in Liverpool have been an eye-catching part of disabled jobs protests. But there is nothing good-natured about this government's policies.

IF beating up disabled people on the street was made an Olympic sport, Britain might be in for a few more medals this year.

The number of such despicable and barbaric attacks has soared, and those who monitor such things see a correlation with the attacks on disabled people as "scroungers" appearing in parts of the media. It figures, if one thinks back to the way some papers have previously incited hate attacks on "illegal" immigrants and "bogus" asylum seekers and Muslims over the years. And don't tell me the hacks responsible, and their bosses, don't know exactly what they are doing.

There are going to be questions asked in parliament about these attacks, and also about the figures for suicides among people, many with mental health problems, facing gruelling tests and "assessments" for suitability for work, which often doesn't exist anyway. But of course the testing provides employment for the companies carrying it out, and nice profits for firms which had the foresight to move into such activity.

Yesterday the government showed how much it really cares about "helping" disabled people into work. Maria Miller MP, minister for Disabled People, announced that 36 of the 54 Remploy factories around the UK will close with 1,752 compulsory redundancies.

Remploy workers, many of whom do skilled work producing specialised goods such as protective clothing for the emergency services, have been concerned for some time that the government which was their main client was shifting contracts from them, and sometimes placing these overseas. Now the argument is made that some of the factories are losing money, or if you want the happy-talk story for Polyanna consumption, that the workers would prefer not to be "segregated" in sheltered workshops anyway.

As though there were loads of jobs out there, with decent pay and conditions, and welcoming employers just waiting for them.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

'Closing Remploy factories will consign hundreds of severely disabled workers who have little chance of finding work anywhere else to the labour market scrap heap.

'The TUC supports the GMB and other Remploy unions who will campaign against this attack on some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.'

The GMB union has condemned the way Remploy has been run down and the way some charities have provided cover for the government. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey says the decision to close the factories is "barbaric".

In Cumbria, Labour MP for Copeland Jamie Reed, who had been pleading with the minister to visit the Remploy factory in Cleator Moor in his constituency, described the Government decision as “cowardly, duplicitous and shameful”. The Cleator Moor workers had been prepared to try a management buy out to save their factory.
Jamie Reed photo
Jamie Reed

With what we're hearing about people being taken off benfits, and plans to make people who are terminally ill go into workfare, it did not take people long to see a bitter irony at work. As one Facebook friend of mine commented:

"So let me get this straight - chronically ill and disabled people have to work or starve - but as a nation we don't want factories which employ disabled people. Erm? Surely some mistake.

Oh no I get it - Remploy does proper jobs - what this country needs is more people to do menial tasks for big business for free".

Indeed, what might seem to anyone really naieve as a break in "joined up government" is in reality Cameron's government hitting the disabled with two fists. As those who have been following what the government is up to have been noting, this attack on people who are most vulnerable has been mounting, step by step, or blow by blow.

Employment and support allowance claimants who want to appeal against a decision they are capable of work will be forced to claim jobseekers allowance or go without benefits, possibly for many months, under a clause in the welfare reform bill currently going through parliament. Astonishingly, the government is already consulting on whether their harsh changes to the appeals procedure go far enough.

On February 29, attacking the claim that workfare placements weren't compulsory as ministerial dishonesty, the Boycott Workfare campaign also noted:

Importantly, today DWP also reported that they would expect people on ESA – a benefit for sick and disabled people – to begin on the Work Programme within 3 months. People placed in the “Work Related Assessment Group” by ATOS can face unlimited workfare placements.

There is a petition to ask that the Remploy factories be saved:
We, the undersigned, petition The Right Honourable David Cameron Prime Minister to stop the closure of Remploy Factories and the privatisation of Remploy Employment Services.

There has also been disquiet even within the Tory party over what is happening.

But at the top level, Tories and Lib Dems alike are staying with this attack, and it must be said that Labour leaders are not much better. The Remploy workers in our picture above were campaigning against the threat to their jobs while New Labour was in office.

If you asked decent people what should be done to thugs who attacked a person in a wheelchair, I imagine you'd get a fierce and angry response. Well the same anger is justified against this government which is attacking disabled and vulnerable people, whatever the polite hypocrisy behind which it tries to hide its attack.

On hate attacks, government and media, see:

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