Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has called on UK work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to be sacked over his “callous” comments on Remploy.
Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, has called on UK work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to be sacked following a remarkable outburst by the failed former Tory leader over the government’s plans to close Remploy factories across the country.
In March, the coalition government announced its intention to proceed with a recommendation of the Remploy board to oversee the closure of 36 of its 54 factories, leaving more than 1,700 disabled people facing the prospect of losing their jobs.
Across Wales, concerns were expressed that the country had been disproportionately hit by the proposals which risk the jobs of 272 workers with seven factories in Aberdare, Abertillery, Bridgend, Croespenmaen, Merthyr, Swansea and Wrexham earmarked for closure.
At the time, Martyn Phillips, of Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taf, a production controller at a Remploy factory in Bridgend, told the BBC in no uncertain terms:
“To put 1,700 disabled people out of work at any time is bad but to do it now when jobs are not out there is really cruel.”
The development led the Sunday Express to launch a campaign against the move.
As a result, the paper this weekend reported that last Thursday, its editor Martin Townsend, political editor Kirsty Buchanan, Remploy worker Mark Holloway, who has cerebral palsy, and administrator Julie Haynes from the Barking factory, were waiting in the lobby of the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver a 15,000 strong petition against the planned closures, when IDS “strode through with his wife Betsy”.
In challenging the Secretary of State over the impact of the proposals, the paper quotes Duncan Smith as having said:
“Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?
“I promise you this is better. Taking this decision was a balance between how much do I want to spend keeping a number of people in Remploy factories not producing stuff versus getting people into proper jobs.”
The paper, which supported the Conservatives in the 2010 general election, continued:
Stunned, Julie, 55, said: “We work in our factories!” The minister barked back: “You don’t produce very much at all.” Mark, 46, who has cerebral palsy, said 95 per cent of Remploy staff axed under Labour’s 2008 closure programme still do not have jobs.
Asked why the disabled were being robbed of a choice between a segregated or mainstream workplace, Mr Duncan Smith snapped: “How far do you want to go with the idea that you can choose to do exactly what you want?”
He said he would look at any viable plan to keep open the 18 Remploy factories at risk and may extend the 90-day consultation period.
He warned, however: “The reality is for those that are not viable it does not make any sense at all keeping people sitting not doing anything.”
Outlining his shock at the remarks, Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews was defiant in his call for Duncan Smith to be sacked himself.
“I have visited every factory in Wales, since the Tory closure announcement, so unlike Iain Duncan Smith I actually have a clear idea of the good work that goes on in many of these factories.
“It is not just the callousness of these remarks that are shocking – I would expect little else from this government – it’s the ignorance behind the remarks that is really troubling.
“In Wales we are absolutely clear that the decision to close all Remploy factories is wrong on social grounds, and wrong on economic grounds too. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the taxpayer will end up paying out more for the Remploy workers if the factories close as they will be forced to take the dole.
“After making these comments, Iain Duncan Smith should be sacked. It’s as simple as that.”
In a statement, in which it accused the Sunday Express of having “deliberately misrepresented the arguments on this very important issue”, the Department for Work and Pensions responded:
“We believe that the best way to help disabled people into work is not to hide them away in factories but give them every assistance in supporting them into mainstream employment.
“Ministers and the Secretary of State are clear – the specialist employment budget is £320m a fifth of which is presently spent on loss making Remploy factories and should instead be moved into programmes like Access to Work. There will be no cut to funding.
“We appreciate that Remploy has been an important part of many disabled people’s working lives and this decision was not taken lightly.”
Vowing to continue its campaign, Sunday Express editor Martin Townsend argued:
“The Sunday Express crusade to Save Remploy will step up a gear now as we campaign harder to stop these catastrophic closures.
“Remploy provides dignity, support, security and self-esteem to its staff. This is not only a fight to save jobs but to reward hard work and endeavour, something a Conservative-led government should be only too willing to support.”