Remploy closure divides sector

A row has broken out over six major disability charities' support for the closure of 32 Remploy factories, which provide employment for people with disabilities, after Colin Low, chair of the RNIB, wrote to the national press accusing the organisations of making a "major mistake".

The chief executives of Leonard Cheshire, Mind, Scope, Mencap, Radar and the RNID wrote a joint letter to The Guardian before the decision to close the factories was announced last week, expressing their support for Remploy's plans to reinvent itself as a support agency for disabled people seeking employment. Remploy's factories currently provide work for nearly 5,000 people.

The letter said that although Remploy factories had been "of real benefit" in the past, disabled people were happier working in "the inclusive environment that the rest of us take for granted. The minute you assume someone cannot work in the outside world, you will ensure they don't."

But in a response in The Guardian several days later, Low said it was "naive" to think that reliance on the mainstream would meet all disabled people's employment needs.

"We need a two-pronged approach, embracing both mainstream and supported employment," he said.

"There isn't a law against employing disabled people in mainstream jobs. If it were as easy as that, disabled people would be there already."

He also questioned whether the six charities were in touch with their beneficiaries. "It seems there is still a difference between being an organisation of and an organisation for the disabled," he concluded.

Phil Davies, national secretary of the GMB union, threatened to stage demonstrations at the headquarters of the six charities, to condemn "the grotesque scene" of their leaders "scuttling around media studios calling for the handing out of redundancy notices to dis-abled workers".

However, John Low, chief executive of the RNID, was unrepentant. He said: "Closing these factories won't lead to compulsory redundancies. It will replace low-skilled, prospect-free jobs with investment in a system that develops and rewards disabled people's skills."

The United Kingdom's Disabled Peoples Council said it supported the closure of "segregated provision". And Colin Cameron, vice-convener of umbrella group Inclusion Scotland, said it was "refreshing to see the big charities echoing the disabled people's movement".

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