Brendan Barber launches broadside on coalition attacks on Remploy, welfare reform and benefit cuts

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A black "Trojan" horse used for a GMB demonstration in London yesterday against the closure of Remploy factories

The government is being ‘fundamentally dishonest’ about its policies for disabled people, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber will warn the TUC’s annual two-day Disabled Workers’ conference, which begins in London today.

Addressing more than 200 delegates at the conference at the TUC’s headquarters at Congress House this afternoon Brendan Barber will say:

“We are meeting amidst profoundly difficult times for disabled workers. Our economy remains in crisis with Britain now in a double dip recession. Employment rights are under attack when workers need them most and the government continues to force through cuts of a magnitude not seen in living memory.

“No group of people is more affected by the government’s savage, ideological austerity than disabled workers. It’s no exaggeration to say that when it comes to disability, there is a fundamental dishonesty about government policy.

“The coalition is keen to promote the language of fairness and is keen to stress the opportunities available to disabled people, but the truth could not be more different. Nowhere is the dichotomy between rhetoric and reality starker than when it comes to benefits – a lifeline for so many disabled people.

“As the right-wing press peddles its demeaning myths about workshy scroungers, the government is slashing £17 billion from the welfare budget. It is the poorest, and most disadvantaged people who are suffering the consequences. Among them cancer patients unable to work, ex-service personnel who have lost arms and legs, and people living with thalidomide.

“The government’s welfare reforms are causing immense damage. Think about the Work Programme, which is replacing welfare with workfare and allowing private firms to rake it in. Think about the conversion of Disability Living Allowance into Personal Independence Payments (PIP). This is a measure that is designed solely to save a billion pounds, and the only way that can be achieved is by reducing the numbers eligible for PIP. And think finally about Work Capability Assessments. The number of wrong decisions and successful appeals is indicative of a system that is frankly rotten to the core.

“If the government’s approach to welfare is misplaced, then pretty much the same can be said of its approach to Remploy. Of the 54 Remploy factories across the UK, 36 are to be closed this year – with the remainder gone by the end of next year. And 1,700 jobs are going now – with 2,500 lost in total.

“What frustrates me is that Remploy hasn’t been given a chance to succeed. There has been chronic under-investment from government – a systematic failure to use procurement intelligently and an unwillingness to calculate the true economic and social costs of factory closures. Now the government claims that it is helping disabled people into employment elsewhere. But once again, ministers are playing fast and loose with the truth. Let’s be clear: slashing jobs at Remploy isn’t going to create a single job anywhere else. It’s just going to make a bad situation worse. The TUC is continuing to work with all Remploy unions to get the government to reverse its decision.

“Whether it’s Remploy, welfare reform or benefit cuts, there is a fundamental deceit at the heart of government policy. The only way for us to respond to the government’s savage attacks is by campaigning and mobilising for change.

“That’s why – with the tide turning against austerity in Britain and across Europe – we need to be forceful in setting out our alternative to the cuts, an alternative based on growth, jobs and tax justice, so rather than cuts that scar the poorest, we have fair taxes the rich cannot dodge. That’s the message the TUC will be taking to the people of Britain as we hold a major national mobilisation in London on Saturday 20 October.

“Our theme is simple: a future that works. The aim is not just to build on the huge success of our March for the Alternative last year, but to win the battle for Britain’s future. The British people’s sense of fair play has been offended by a government that slashes benefits for cancer sufferers and then cuts taxes for millionaires, and by tapping into this mood, I believe we can build a real momentum for change.”

Lord Colin Low is also speaking at the conference and delegates will debate motions on issues including welfare, Remploy, the cuts and disability hate crime.


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