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Disabled People: Employment

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what alternative employment they expect to be available for the disabled Remploy workers who face losing their jobs as a result of the decision to reduce the subsidy to Remploy.

My Lords, the Government are totally committed to increasing the number of disabled people in work. We have made £8 million available to establish a comprehensive support package to support every disabled employee displaced from a Remploy factory with the transition from government-funded sheltered employment into mainstream employment. We are working with employers to ensure that all potential opportunities are identified and accessible to Remploy employees. The Government are working with the Employers’ Forum on Disability to develop plans for employers to offer targeted work opportunities for displaced staff.

My Lords, the Welsh Government have said that if the Remploy budget for Wales is handed over to them for the next three years, they will aim to restructure the company, maintain jobs and protect its future. Why have the Government rejected the opportunity to keep disabled people in work, earning wages and paying taxes rather than being unemployed and living on benefits? Will the Government think again on that Welsh government offer?

My Lords, I say, first, that I absolutely understand why the noble Lord is raising this Question. The threat of redundancy is deeply concerning for anyone, and most of all, I am sure, for disabled people. This matter is not devolved to Wales and the funding will not be devolved. Remploy’s employment services have a good record of placing disabled and disadvantaged people in work in Wales, with more than 2,300 people having been helped in the past year, and there are a large number of notified job vacancies—in fact, 110,000—in the local authority areas where the nine Welsh factories are located. Therefore, although I understand the concerns, I think that there are reasons to be optimistic about the prospects of the individuals who will receive tailored individual support.

My Lords, I express particular concern about the proposed closure of the Remploy factory in Spennymoor, County Durham, where I attended the grammar school. This is already an area of high unemployment, with a number of other factories having closed. What employment opportunities for disabled individuals have the Government been able to identify in that area, if and when this factory closes?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that point. I cannot answer specific questions about geographies but I can say that we are absolutely committed to supporting Remploy employees. I have mentioned the £8 million comprehensive personalised package of support for all those who are affected by these proposals. Any disabled member of staff who is made redundant will receive an offer of individualised support for up to 18 months to help with the transition from government-funded sheltered employment into mainstream employment. This will include access to a personal budget to aid that transition. As I have said, we will also be working with employers and the Employers’ Forum on Disability with a view to offering targeted work opportunities.

My Lords, following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, does the Minister accept that the responsibilities of the National Assembly for Wales include both disability and aspects of employment, and that, indeed, in the context of the Welfare Reform Act the Government are passing resources to the Assembly to undertake responsibilities on what have been non-devolved subjects? Given that, is it not possible to respond positively to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig?

My Lords, I am sure the House recognises that the decision to reduce segregated employment for the disabled is difficult but inevitable. Given the importance of support and transitional arrangements for those affected, can the Minister tell us what lessons the Government learnt from the 28 Remploy factories closed under the last Labour Government?

My Lords, quite a lot of lessons, and those lessons have very much been taken into account. As I have said, the Government are absolutely committed to supporting Remploy employees who may be affected by the changes.

My Lords, we support the Access to Work programme—indeed, we developed it —and we support helping disabled people into mainstream employment. Therefore, we support the focus on these programmes. However, why is this being done at the cost of putting 1,500 disabled people out of work at a time when the Government’s own statistics show that disabled people continue to be disadvantaged in the labour market and when we heard just yesterday that unemployment is at its highest rate since 1995?

My Lords, I do not think it is a question of favouring one group over another; it is a matter of targeting the resources better at the whole disabled population. Remploy takes up one-fifth of the entire budget of employment support for disabled people. We feel, and indeed are advised by the Sayce review and the disabled lobby, that this is a more appropriate way to target the resources.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that nothing in the legislation concerning devolution to Wales would prevent the Government doing what the Welsh Assembly wants?

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Baroness an answer to that because I have not studied the devolvement legislation. However, I will write to her with an answer.