About 2,000 workers lost their jobs when Remploy factories closed.
Remploy was set up in the 1940s, and it was perceived as a new way of tackling the issues of disability and employment, with one purpose, to give disabled miners and those injured in war, a job for life.
But now, the concept of segregated employment seems an antiquated concept to many.
The Government said that the Remploy factories were running at a loss, and their focus was to help disabled workers into mainstream employment, but that doesn’t appear to be the case because when disabled people are looking for a job, employers take one look at them, after being handed their CV and they never call them back, and numerous disabled people still feel excluded from mainstream jobs.
And the Government said that disabled people would work together in harmony – that might be the case in a perfect world, but the world isn’t perfect and there are still countless obstacles to overcome.
The Government further said that attempts were being made to fill the gap and that they were getting numerous people into work or training each day, and they had specialist disability employment advisors available in Jobcentres, although the Government was criticised by the Work and Pensions Select Committee for a lack of specialist advisors for disabled people.
Even though the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had employed 300 more advisors with disability training, taking the total to 1,400.
Since the factories wound up, Remploy evolved into a specialist recruitment service that has managed to find several disabled people jobs, but not all of them, which means many of those being employed by Remploy were out of work.
The Remploy factories were set up after World War Two to provide work for servicemen and civilians who were injured and disabled, and for almost seventy years the factories provided sheltered, paid work for thousands of people with disabilities, doing things like making radiation protection suits for the Army, wheelchairs for the NHS and furniture for schools, but Remploy sold or closed its remaining factories in 2013.
Employees at Remploy were left in tears when they were told that the factories were to be shut down, and they were left heartbroken because they worked so hard, and were proud because it meant that they could pay their own way, rather than getting any benefits.
However, a spokesperson for Remploy at the time said that the move would allow for more disabled people to be found work in mainstream employment, and he said that it was not a cost-cutting exercise.
However, one Labour Euro MP at the time who had fought to keep one of the factories open, said it was nonsensical to think many of the staff could work in mainstream employment, and he said that they’d been fighting for months with workers and unions in Southend to keep the factory open and that the truth was that many of those workers would not be able to adjust to a mainstream workplace.
And that they needed the opportunity to remain in the kind of workplace which not only gave a pay packet but also a sense of pride, respect, social outlet and independence of being in a dedicated working environment.
Remploy was set up under the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act by Ernest Bevin, who was then minister of Labour, to become yet another plank in Welfare State formed by the Attlee government in 1945.
After the Second World War, Clement Attlee’s Labour government wasn’t about to repeat the pitiful scenes 30 years earlier of limbless soldiers playing mouth organs on the streets.
So, Remploy was formally established in April 1945, and its first factory opened in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1946. It made violins and furniture and many of the workers were disabled miners.
Remploy was an early brand name that was first registered by the Ex-Services Employment Corporation.
Derived from ‘re-employ’, the name was adopted by Remploy in 1946, until then, it was called the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation.
At its height Remploy had about 100 factories scattered across England, Scotland and Wales, employing over 10,000 disabled workers, and the factories produced and manufactured goods and services ranging from, in the early days, violin making and bookbinding through to furniture making – Remploy workers were skilled covering a broad spectrum of sectors from textiles to motor components.
But it was Tory Minister Michael Portillo who kick-started Remploy’s dissolution when in 1994 he ended a scheme guaranteeing the factories priority for government contracts, and this imposed competitive tendering on the company.
By 1995 Peter Thurnham, a then Tory MP who crossed the floor to the LibDems in 1996, wrote a paper calling for Remploy to be taken under the private sector umbrella, where he believed it would be more successful.
In late 1999 Remploy announced it was going to merge a number of its factories and close others, and anything up to twenty sites were to be affected, and on a cold February afternoon about 60 Remploy workers and trade union activists from about the country convened outside Parliament and held a 24-hour vigil.
And though few in number they made their presence felt, and MP after MP came out to give them their support and solidarity to their cause.
Even John Snow newscaster stopped and chatted with them for half an hour, and inside a few days of the protest a cessation was placed on the closures, and Remploy was saved for the time being.
From January 2006, each Remploy factory had the right to a minimum of one reserved public contract, but despite this, the company did very little to seriously take advantage of this resource, and as a result, the factories continued on a downward trajectory until in May 2007 the company announced a tranche of factory mergers and closures.
This galvanised the unions into action, and demonstrations and gatherings were organised up and down Britain, and every major city with a Remploy site held some kind of action.