Only a handful of disabled men and women are in work a year on from the closure of a Remploy factory as the region’s MPs criticise the Government for failing to protect the vulnerable.
Scores of former employees were made redundant when the Government announced doors would close at Remploy’s Spennymoor site in County Durham.
The packaging factory was shut down a year ago with the final contracts for long-serving staff coming to an end last December.
Ex-production supervisor David Hargrave, 49, who joined Remploy after being injured in a chip-pan fire in his teens, said: “There are just five people out of our factory of 42 staff who have got full time jobs. I didn’t get one until June this year. After 28 years it was a culture shock getting up every day and not having anything to do.
“It’s been terrible, you’ve got one guy used to working and now he’s depressed and down in the depths of despair. Another guy worked there 30 years and died just a couple of months after it closed and I’m wondering if that had some impact on him.”
Remploy factories were set up after World War II to provide work for injured or disabled servicemen and civilians. Thousands of people have worked there making products including packaging, wheelchairs for the NHS and furniture for schools.
In the North East 135 jobs were lost when factories at Spennymoor, Newcastle, Gateshead and Ashington in Northumberland closed after the Government said it would be more cost effective to find work for people in a main-stream setting.
Sharon Hodsgon, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “These are people who would find it difficult to move into mainstream work at the best of economic times, but across Sunderland and the North East we’re seeing long-term unemployment across the board rising, and Ministers have got no answers to what these workers are supposed to do now.”
David, from Deneside, Spennymoor, started working for Remploy in 1984 on the shop floor making electrical switches and then cooker parts before becoming a supervisor in 1990.
Scarring on his lungs from smoke inhalation during the fire means he is permanently short of breath and the factory environment was the perfect place to develop his skills.
His partner Lesley Holmes, 51, who has a problem with the vertebrae in her neck and suffers from arthritis, also lost her job when Remploy closed and is still out of work.
“There are people with learning difficulties at Remploy, epilepsy, diabetes. Everyone of those people was capable of doing something and they really enjoyed their jobs and the camaraderie. Some people just needed that chance to meet people,” said David, who found work with cash processing company Vaultex in the summer.
“People are trying so hard to look for work and sending letters and CVs. One person has a curvature of the spine and mustn’t come across on first impressions that he’s a good worker but he really is. Some employers don’t see past those veils.”
MP for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman who fought a campaign to keep the factory open, said said: “Government Ministers promised that jobs would be there if there was the right support – the Government has clearly failed to ensure the right support or a growing economy in the North East.”