He Just Can’t Help Himself…’
“Exeter’s Labour candidate Ben Bradshaw said it was “extraordinarily insensitive” for the Cabinet minister to visit Pluss, based in the city, amid its upheaval.
Mr Duncan Smith, in charge of the Government’s controversial welfare reforms, visited Cornwall on Monday and Devon yesterday.
The proposed closure of Pluss factories in Exeter and Bridgwater, Somerset, which may result in up to 75 redundancies, could follow “changes in commercial contracts and funding from local authorities”, the social enterprise said.
Mr Bradshaw criticised the minister for not talking to staff losing their jobs.
“What an insult for Iain Duncan Smith to visit without speaking to staff and ignorant of the fact they’re losing their jobs. Some have worked there since the 1970s and will find it impossible to find other jobs,” he said.
But Dom Morris, the Conservative candidate in Exeter, said Mr Duncan Smith met some of those who have been helped by Pluss before speaking to the management.
He criticised Labour for using the visit as a “political football”.
He said: “I am disappointed that such a productive visit to a fantastic organisation that changes people’s lives has been kicked around like a political football.
“As Pluss have said themselves, the organisation is going through changes that will enable them to increase the number of people they support each year and turn more people’s lives around.
“Pluss does great work getting disabled people into jobs here in Exeter.
“We visited at the invitation of Pluss and met with people that have had their lives turned around by the Government’s Work Choice Programme.
“Put simply, we were there to celebrate the great work that Pluss does changing people’s lives.”
Its plant in Exeter makes cushions for wheelchairs and car upholstery. Many of the factory workers have disabilities or learning difficulties. Bosses fear they would struggle to find employment elsewhere.
Pluss, which is owned by four councils in the South West – Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – over 50% of staff have a disability.”
The Mirror adds,
“Mr Gallin, of the Community Union, said: “Workers are devastated they face losing their jobs.
“It will be incredibly difficult for them to find another job, if not impossible.
“These are very vulnerable people who come here not only to work, but to meet people.”
Mr Gallin, who has worked for Pluss for 28 years, added: “If Iain Duncan Smith had come here and seen for himself how this factory runs, maybe it would have helped.”
Pluss, which is owned by four councils in the south west – Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – said in a statement: “We are a ‘social firm’ and as such over 50% of our staff have a disability.
“Due to accumulation of a range of changes in commercial contracts and funding from local authorities, the company has commenced consultations on a range of proposals that deal with the challenges these pose.
“These include the potential closure of our manufacturing operations in Marsh Barton, Exeter and Huntworth Gate in Bridgwater, and rationalisation of corporate services.
“These proposals could result in up to 75 redundancies. The company will be looking to achieve these reductions through voluntary means wherever possible.
“These changes are aimed at increasing the number of people we support each year through more effective use of resources.
“As with all changes, Pluss recognises this will be bad news for those staff affected and we intend to put in place a range of mechanisms to support staff through this difficult period.”
Mr Duncan Smith’s spokeswoman said: “Iain and Dom met with disabled people who have been supported into work by Pluss – an organisation doing fantastic work in the local area.” ”
One assumes that the local Tories behind inviting this enemy of the disabled simply did this to “celebrate” these achievements, and that it had noting to the electoral campaign now in full swing.
Whilst Work Choice is a worthy programme, its modesty makes it incapable of even beginning to address the scale of the challenge. Indeed, the Government’s whole approach on disability and employment is flawed. All their energies and resources are focused on “supporting” disabled people to become more “employable” and confident – or “job ready” to use the correct jargon. This rather perniciously suggests that it is disabled people who need to change to adapt to the demands of the workplace. The reality, as we all know, is rather different. Where change is required is with society, and with the endurance of inaccessible workplaces, unavailable transport and the ongoing culture of stigma, discrimination and low expectations of the capabilities and expertise of disabled people. If the Government really wants to support the missing million, it must take radical action to create a more equal and accessible workplace for all. Work Transformation not Work Choice is what is required.