I, too, welcome the Remploy staff to the chamber. It is unfortunate that I was unable to attend their event. I did not know that the demonstration was happening today, or I would have supported it.
Remploy workers are not just angry about losing their jobs, but angry that some UK politicians are using the veneer of support for disability organisations to justify the closure plans. I hope to return to that later in my speech.
In a tight funding environment, numerous organisations will be grateful for the cash that currently goes to Remploy, but that does not mean that support for disabled people will improve. It means that a finite resource will be used in different areas. Perhaps the question should be whether we are spending enough to protect disability rights and employability strategies more generally, rather than how we can spend the same inadequate pot of money in different ways.
There is always a case for change and improvements to disability support arrangements, but Iain Duncan Smith’s statement that the Government should not be expected to subsidise “Victorian-era segregated employment” misses the point entirely. Ken Macintosh referred to that. Not only does it miss the point, but it is an almost unbelievable insult to the skilled workers of these 21st century manufacturing operations. Like most people in the chamber, I believe that the rights and opportunities of the most vulnerable people in our society should be protected, and that is why we are being defensive of Remploy, which provides those opportunities.
If we view the Remploy proposals in the context of the UK Government’s wider approach to the disabled in our society, particularly in relation to welfare reform, it is pretty clear to me who is expected to pay the price in a Tory Britain for the failures of successive UK Governments on the economy—it is the most vulnerable in society.
I would love to see all disabled people in mainstream employment of their choosing. Training, education and work opportunities should be open to all, regardless of disability. The Conservatives talk about focusing on the individual, but what about the individual who is best suited to supported employment in places such as Remploy? What about them? No Remploy worker has a preference for the dole, but that is exactly where many of them might end up if the plans go ahead.
That is why I lodged a motion recently describing the Remploy closures as ill timed and ill considered. Let us put aside the debate on supported employment for one moment.