Thursday, 8 March 2012

Regressive government cuts

The announcement that the Disabled Persons Minister is taking an axe to the Remploy network came as a shock. Transport Minister Justine Greening's statement* on "Rail Reform" implies removal of subsidies and resulting peak-time fare increases and service cuts. One wonders whether the government is getting bad news out of the way and if there is another depressing statement on the way.

Remploy was the result of the Disabled Persons Employment Act 1945 sponsored by the Ministry of Labour under the legendary Ernest Bevin. It is ironic that one of the seven closures scheduled in Wales is in Bridgend, where the first-ever Remploy factory was set up. The rationale is that government funding should focus on support for individuals, rather than subsidising factory businesses. The money currently spent on Remploy should be diverted into the Access to Work fund, which provides technology and other help to firms for the disabled. In an era of full, or near full, employment this argument would be strong, but  just now the work is not out there for people to be given access to. If the factories have to close, which I would still contest, I suggest that they do not do so before the economic recovery is well under way. The chances of the redundant disabled workers of finding new jobs will be enhanced by having evidence of recent employment on their CVs.

[Added 2012-3-9: for a Labour loyalist's contrary view, see]

Justine Greening's speech to the House of Commons was rather short on detail so it would be foolish to risk further speculation. There should be more informed comment in the next issue of Railfuture magazine.

Both government moves are inspired by commissioned reports: Sayce in the case of Remploy, McNulty of rail. But a cynic will wonder whether both have been brought forward and are part of the price we will have to pay for lollipops in the budget statement later this month.

*This is not all bad news, including as it does the prospect of more through-ticketing and giving more power to regional managers

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