Outrageous cuts agenda for disabled workers, or empowering mainstreaming exercise? It depends whether you are the workers or the government.
The government's stated intention in closing around half of its Remploy factories is, to mainstream employment for disabled people. I'm sure we'd all agree that disabled people should not have to feel as though they need to be sheltered or segregated at work. Yet, in a chilly economic climate, and where disability benefits are to be squeezed, is this really the time to be putting around 1500 productive disabled workers out of a job? Is this really about mainstreaming or is it about making further cuts by closing unionised workplaces?
Disabled people know that proving discrimination, particularly at recruitment stage, can be tough. John Yarrick, a Remploy worker quoted in the Sunday Express yesterday, said "I did not want to be on benefits, I really wanted to work, but in each case they asked you to tick a box if you had a disability and I never heard back from any of them." Mr Yarrick reported having applied for more than 60 jobs before obtaining work at Remploy.
And is the mainstream workplace really ready to provide meaningful and dignified work and conditions for disabled workers? The Shaw Trust says that just 50% of disabled people are in work in the UK; as against 80% of the non-disabled population. Only 20% of those with mental health difficulties are in work. Is this because they are lazily languishing on benefits or could it actually be that employers generally are still very prejudiced towards disabled candidates despite equality laws?
The government argues that extra money will be able to be given to Access to Work to assist individuals with adjustments to help them into the wider workplaces. In my experience there is a staggering lack of awareness by employers of services such as Access to Work.
If the government is determined to push these closures through, and squeeze disability benefits, then it is to be hoped that they will use some of the money that they save to conduct a large and meaningful education exercise among the employer community regarding the recruitment and retention of disabled workers so that we can get the attitude shift which is necessary.
In the meantime, we'll do the best we can for our clients with their Equality Act rights.
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Please call 0800 916 9060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Discrimination Employment Solicitors operate from offices across the country and can offer immediate and accessible representation anywhere in the UK.By Alison Humphry, Employment Law Expert.