Monday, 28 May 2012

Tanni Grey-Thompson: Paragon of the Paralympics

Tanni Grey-Thompson, warned a week ago, without mentioning the four-letter A-word, that disability benefit cuts would undermine the loudly proclaimed legacy of the Games.

Can Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, be a champion of an ATOS Paralympics
 and speak for ordinary disabled hit by ATOS assessments?  
Not nearly half as much as it will undermine the health and independence of disabled people who lose benefit, Tanni!

Come on Tanni Grey-Thompson live up to your reputation as "...articulate  spokesperson for the rights of disabled people."  Lend your voice to those objecting to this disgraceful company, ATOS. The Paralympics will last a couple of weeks. ATOS assessments cause years of misery. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Which National Newspaper is most at Fault for causing Rising Hatred toward Disabled People and Benefits Claimants?

The Social Welfare Union site is running this Poll: Which National Newspaper is most at Fault for causing Rising Hatred toward Disabled People and Benefits Claimants? These results below were current at my time of posting.

Daily Mail - 47.83%
The Sun - 41.3%
Telegraph - 6.52%
Daily Express - 2.17%
Other - 2.17%

As I suspected, the Hate and the Sun are fairly close in their bid to rid the world of disabled people and benefits' claimants. What a pity they don't use their massive resources of money and bile to track down the real cheats among us, namely the wealthy million and billion-aires who rob the country of scores of billions of £££s every year.

Surely stories of how the rich and powerful spend their time and ill-gotten wealth would make for far more salacious reading than the 'single mother in receipt of housing benefit while living alone with her child and no husband' world exclusive regurgitated, ad nauseam . Wouldn't it be great to see pictures of tax guzzler Philip Green's wife luxuriating in Monaco at our cost.

Or journalists rediscovering the investigatory talents they've so cleverly covered up over the past few years. Wouldn't they feel the better for stretching their journalistic skills. You know, reporting the news; not taking press releases from the DWP and submitting them as copy.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Response to Breakthrough-UK's Stance on Remploy Factories

Last week Breakthrough-UK (B-UK) publicly released an email explaining why they would not put their name to a letter (this appeared in the Guardian on Friday 11th May) posted by Inclusion London, and others, calling to keep Remploy factories open.

B-UK, while not wishing disabled workers to lose their jobs, nonetheless proceeded to explain why, for the greater good of the disability movement, Remploy workers should willingly surrender to their fate, thus consigning themselves and 'segregated' employment to the footnotes of social history.

Unless you happen to be a blue-collar factory worker...
B-UK contend: "Firstly, the social context has changed: the focus now for disabled people – for which we have fought long and hard – is on rights and independence, on mainstream employment and inclusive education, on user-led organisations and organisations controlled by disabled people. We have rejected segregated provision."

The above statement contradictory. On the one hand it calls for the mainstreaming of disabled people into employment, while at the same time promoting user-led organisations controlled by disabled people.

Which is it? Disabled people should either enter mainstream employment and be given a fair chance to compete on level terms (this could by using means such as Access to Work and reasonable adjustments); or, we should form user-led organisations which we control and run.

The idea of disabled people running a company from top to bottom is great. But, wouldn't this create a more complete disability 'ghetto' (I use this word in honour of Margaret Hodge who first, charmingly, used this term to describe Remploy factories) than Remploy. For now you'd not only have disabled workers, but the managers would also be disabled!

Incidentally, the use of 'segregated' when discussing Remploy's supported employment model is both provocative and misplaced. Most people who work are, to a greater or lesser degree, segregated. The very nature of most work means the individual has sold their skills/labour to an employer for a given period of time. During periods of work it is generally accepted that this is not one's own time. The nature of work, which for a great many workers takes us away from friends, family, and the general public, can crudely be defined as segregation.

Remploy factories do not differ in this sense. Indeed, they replicate workplaces up and down the country in both the private and public sector. Remploy workers clock-in from 7.30 am to 9 am, depending on the factory and nature of their work. They can be sacked; and they can invoke grievance procedures against their employer. They work, mostly, around a 35-hour week; have progressive holiday and sickness entitlement schemes; and good health and safety conditions. None of this was gifted to them. No, they were union organised and fought hard for these Ts and Cs, just as thousands of other workplaces have fought over the years.

B-UK continue their thesis, thus: "Secondly, the general economic context is vastly different to that of the immediate post-war years; the strong manufacturing base that we had, and which supported the Remploy model, is no longer: it has been replaced by the service sector and the economy is also rapidly developing into an IT and communications base. Remploy planning and development has not really taken account of these changes."

There is grain of truth in B-UK's reasoning here. However, manufacturing still accounts for 12% GDP (whereas financial services only account for 9%) employing around 2.2 million workers.

But, you're right Remploy should have kept up with the markets and began diversifying 15-20 years ago. They should have looked to other industries to tap into. Indeed, some factories did invest in some areas of modern industry such as telesales and security monitoring.

But we, in the trade union movement, have been complaining to successive governments that depending on old trades and businesses was not the way forward for Remploy. Back in 2007 we even put forward an alternative business plan to Price Waterhouse Cooper (who were carrying out a Review of Remploy) that would have better exploited reserved contracts for supported factories and businesses. Our plan would have brought down the government subsidy per head in the factories massively; but, we needed time to make good decades of decay. One union officer felt that given the right kind of work and some time Remploy could go it alone without government money!

B-UK then decided to state the obvious, with: "Thirdly, of course, the current economic climate is dire with ever more austerity on the horizon, the decimation of welfare support for disabled people, and rising unemployment for the whole population. This third factor is often used - misguidedly, we believe - to justify the current calls to keep Remploy factories open."

As a trade unionist, misguided if we follow your line, I believe there is a very good reason to keep Remploy factories open. Because, they maintain a few thousand disabled people in meaningful employment. B-UK, your way points to despair and poverty for the overwhelming majority of Remploy workers should they become unemployed. There is a perversity, almost of a masochistic nature, in your reasoning around the existence of Remploy.

If Remploy was a co-operative or social enterprise ran by disabled workers for disabled workers you would doubtlessly bestow upon it a mark of approval. Would you then criticise it for segregating its workforce; or decry the fact that it was still publicly funded because now local authorities and councils were handing out subsidies and grants and contracts - where do you get your funding?

Your idea of handing factories over to User Led Organisations is not new. When the York factory closed several years ago throwing 54 people out of work; from its ashes rose a co-operative phoenix. This enterprise is still operating. It employs 3 people making garden furniture and two others to run the co-op (a buyer and manager I imagine). Sadly, the co-op is struggling; and I understand being helped by trade union donations.

Is this the model you think the rest of the Remploy factories should consider? There is nothing wrong with the concept of co-ops and social enterprises (except that SE's usually lead to privatisation, downsizing and a general race to the bottom for their employees). However, if you hadn't noticed we are in the middle of a double-dip recession; one that, if we look at what's happening in mainland Europe (which is like a 'get-out-of-jail-free-card' for this government) could make things even worse here.

Double-dip recessions, an increase in unemployment and the slashing of local authority and council budgets to the bone are hardly conditions conducive to starting up scores of co-ops and SE's in individual regions or several hundred nationally. Even if such enterprises were opened, they would still need the life blood of any business venture, orders in their books. Giving groups of people £10,000 to start up on their own account may sound generous; but, in reality it is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

B-UK goes on to reveal: "This barriers approach, or the social model, identifies the real problems – barriers and discrimination - and points the way to real solutions."

At last we arrive at the crux of the matter. Remploy factories only exist because of societal barriers and discrimination against disabled people; and the social model of disability will save the day. Except of course, in the real world the 'social model', a social policy I wholeheartedly embrace, is always trumped by its bigger bullying brother the 'economic model' .

Finally B-UK, I see by your statistics that you supported 43 people into paid employment last year. Well done. From my experiences I am willing to bet the people you helped into employment were well educated and relatively young. In order for the nearly 2,000 unemployed Remploy workers to be re-employed it would take 46 B-UKs, as well as a mountain of employer prejudice to shift.  

If the government figures of 1.2 million unemployed disabled people wishing to work are true, then I ask you Breakthrough-UK how exactly you think adding another two-thousand people to the queue will do anything but add misery and heartache to another 2,000 people, their families and friends. Not to forget the economic impact of another 2,000 wage packets no longer contributing to the Treasury and local economies. Do you think that the social model of disability will somehow bring down this regime that purports to govern us. Do you suppose Iain Duncan-Smith is going to sometime soon have an epiphany that causes him to embrace the social model. At what point in our troubled history do you think employers will banish disability discrimination from their recruitment processes and open the door to us...

In the struggle

Seán McGovern

Unite the Union Disability Executive Rep

Remploy Vs Access to Work

On the Remploy page on Facebook someone stated that Access to work no longer funds adaptations to workplaces. Let us not get mired down in propaganda, that is the way of this government and its attack-dog press. Therefore, stating that there is no government spending on Access to Work; or that A2W no longer assist in workplace adaptations is not the case, this only applies to adaptations to new premises.

A2W and Remploy
need not compete
As a disabled person in work I receive A2W for a support worker (for which A2W picks up the whole tab); when I began the job, around 6-months ago, I applied for a bespoke chair, which I now use (and for which A2W met 90% of the cost and my employer 10%); and I'm in the process of applying for a wheelchair hoist for my car.

Let's be clear about A2W. It is an excellent scheme that is in dire need of greater funding. Common sense, and prudence, should dictate that the government pump scores of millions into this scheme, as for every £1 invested they see a return of £1.41 through tax and NI contributions!

However, here lies the rub. Sayce in her review of disability employment support praises Access to Work as the way forward; while consigning Remploy factories and residential training courses (RTC) to the dustbin of history. Using Sayce's figures, the combined government funding for both Remploy and RTC's adds up to over £80 million. Yet, the government has only announced an extra £15 million over three years to A2W.

Disabled Remploy worker carrying out skilled work
Investing in A2W could be carried out while keeping Remploy factories open. The two do not have to compete. Remploy factory subsidies are falling. Given the correct market impetus (the full exploitation of reserved contracts for supported factories and businesses); and a complete root and branch restructuring of Remploy's senior management corps and board of directors, could still allow Remploy to reduce its state subsidy. But, such major changes need time to show results.  

So, as this government strips non-waged disabled people of their benefits, telling them that work is the solution to their being lifted from poverty it shows just how committed it is by offering a measly £5 million extra per year - a paltry 6.25% that it will save by shutting down Remploy factories and closing RTC schemes. Hardly the actions of a government seriously looking to help anyone out of poverty.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Iran continues to slaughter young gay men

The caption below, from a few days ago in Iran, shows four young men hanging from the jib of a crane. These men were executed by the Iranian State, the crime...they were homosexuals. Please Iran stop killing young men on the grounds of sexual preference. This is not the way for any civilised country to treat people.

Four lights snubbed out on this chandelier of death.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Using Seance's for Disability History Month

Bumped into Kevin Caufield, from ALLFIE, in the lift at work yesterday lunchtime.

We did the usual lift thing exchanging hellos and smiles. However, the Lambeth Accord lift is notoriously slow, so we found ourselves in that state of suspended time where pregnant pauses stretch out to infinity.

“Busy Kevin?” I mused – always prepared for such occasions with an incisive silence breaker.

“Yes, very” came back Kevin, “I’m carrying out an oral history of disabled people in education over the past 100 years. However, the hundred year-old ones are the problem” quipped Kevin.

My parting advice to Kevin was, “Keep at it. You’re bound to dig something up”.

Careful how you go about your research, Kevin!

All right, I'm leaving!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ian Duncan-Smith Insults Hard-Working Disabled People

The Sunday Express was present a few days ago when Ian Duncan-Smith baited disabled workers present with:

“Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?"

Ian Duncan-Smith making unfounded statements about disabled workers to Remploy Representatives
Some years ago I worked in a Remploy factory and can therefore vouch for the productivity and industriousness of these workers. Workers in Remploy, when given proper investment of opportunity, in work, and in training proved more than competent to carry out the tasks as well as being inventive enough not to let their disabilities beat them.

“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.”

By 'better' I assume Duncan-Smith means putting real people out of, despite his propaganda, real jobs versus placing disabled workers into 'mainstream' employment. IDS is of course being disingenuous when he speaks of 'getting people into real jobs'. There are so few jobs, real or otherwise, out there; and those few that do exist are fought for tooth and nail giving employers the opportunity to cherry pick - if employers could circumvent the law to avoid employing disabled people in good times; they're certainly not going to become decent people now and begin employing us.

Stunned, Julie, 55, said: “We work in our factories!”

And work they do. Not only do Remploy factories make top grade furniture that graces our schools and the offices of businesses around the country. They are a vital part of the motor vehicle components sector. Remploy workers also produce helmet visors and anti-chemical/bacteria clothing for the armed services.

The factories are run on the same lines as any other commercial enterprise, in that staff clock in and out of work. They can be disciplined in exactly any the same way a worker would be in the private sector; and there are grievance procedures in place exactly as you would find in 'mainstream' employment.

The minister barked back: “You don’t produce very much at all.”

Interesting remark from someone from a party in government who during 19 years in control of this country through the 1980s and most of the 1990s produced what exactly? We do know what they destroyed:
·       Manufacturing
·       The coal industry
·       Shipbuilding
·       The steel industry
·       Whole communities in what was our industrial heartland
·       Our railway system
·       The link for retired people between and wage increases/RPI
·       The countries utilities - all in the blessed cause of choice!
·       Council housing stock
·       And last, but not least they tried to consign society to the dustbin

An even more remarkable comment from a government who thus far in two years is destroying our Welfare State and NHS, while blithely dragging us into a double-dip recession by employing austerity remedies that are failing in Ireland; using cures that see unemployment amongst young people in Spain at over 50%; and adopting the same kind of economic solutions that has Greece teetering on the edge of anarchy.

Ian Duncan-Smith, I put it to you that you don't produce very much at all!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Another Inaccessible Pub in Lambeth

My workmates visited the Crown and Anchor in Brixton Road last week. They quite enjoyed it; found the drinks ok; and the ambience enjoyable.

Sadly, this is yet another pub in the area that I can't use due to lack of accessibility. According to my friends, there is an imposing front step and the loos are all downstairs; which is kind of fucking awkward for me, as a wheelchair user.

What a shame; well for me it is.

It wouldn't be so bad if the place was a pokey little pub; but passing the Crown and Anchor to and from work every day, I can't help to notice that it is quite long. Long enough to have accommodated a two-metre square partitioned-off Kharzy.

The photo below gives some idea of the size of the pub's interior.

The interior of the recently refurbished Crown and Anchor in Brixton Road

Sure, an accessible toilet would have displaced a couple of tables; maybe even attracted the wrong kind of boozers - you know, wheelchair users, associated cripples and Radar key users...

Hmm, on reflection, I can actually sympathise with the publican and his clientele; once you let one in, your guard drops, then you're fucked. You end up with an alehouse that attracts a more rounded cross-section of the area.