I have met every member of the Remploy work force in my constituency and in Newcastle, and I wholeheartedly concur with my hon. Friend.
I will ask a number of questions in the short time that I have left. What is happening with the Remploy pension fund? Is it being closed or kept open? That is important to the people who work there. What is happening to the five-year modernisation plan that was put in place by Labour? Why is it being cut short? What about the huge management structure of people who are not disabled, who have been looking after the Remploy factories but have not implemented the modernisation plan? What is happening to the burdensome costs of that management structure?
Last year, there were 2,500 trainees in Remploy, and it is important that we get an answer to what will happen to them if, as we all believe, the Remploy sites are eventually closed. It is clear that the vast majority of the factories will close, if not all of them, which will mean the end of a working life for many people. Their health will decline. The Minister mentioned the problem of unemployed people who have mental health problems, and said that they should be taken off benefits and given a job. I cannot understand that. If someone who is unemployed has mental health problems and we take them off unemployment benefit and try to get them a job when there are no jobs available, that will be disastrous for them.
If people are taken out of work at Remploy, there will be a cost impact for the Government from what will happen to their health. The Government’s estimate is that benefits given to individuals in that situation could range from £10,200 to £27,000 a year. It is easy and cheaper to keep people in employment than to give them up to £27,000 a year of housing and other benefits. We should give them self-esteem and self-respect by allowing them to go to work, as every one of us enjoys doing.
I appeal to the Government to restart in full the consultation period, which started a few months ago. Things have changed rapidly since the beginning of the process, which makes it wholly unfair. We should restore dignity and self-esteem to people in Remploy and keep them in employment as far as we possibly can.