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Remploy workers in Southampton helping the developing world to see
A PRODUCTION line in Southampton helping to improve the sight of thousands of people in the developing world is under threat with the closure of city’s Remploy factory.
Disabled workers assembling innovative adjustable lens glasses for a new tech company are among 1,700 staff across the country facing redundancy after the government decided to pull funding for Remploy factories to instead help more disabled people into mainstream employment.
Southampton MP John Denham has called for the Government to rethink the policy and help give disabled workers a chance to go it alone.
The Remploy factory in West Quay Road, which employs 18 disabled staff, is one of 36 set to close later this year.
Ten of its staff are working to assemble around 500 pairs of adjustable glasses every week for Oxford-based Eyejusters, which supplies them for under $20 to developing world countries where millions of people can’t get the eye care they need.
Owen Reading, from Eyejusters, said Remploy was one of the few manual assembly providers in the UK that offered the flexibility they needed.
He said: “We’re keeping our options open but right now they are a key part of our business and we would rather they didn’t close. They’ve been really good for us. It’s a great shame they’re being threatening with closure.”
Mr Denham said the success of the Eyejusters production line in Southampton showed the potential of the factory and its remaining workers, who would otherwise find it difficult to get other jobs. It once employed more than 100 staff.
The former Labour business secretary said there ought to be a way of “rescuing”
factories like Southampton, probably as a standalone social enterprise, if the Government was more flexible in its policies, such as offering a small subsidy or access to public-sector contracts.
The Government sparked fury when it pulled funding from the Remploy scheme, saying the cash was not being spent effectively.
Ministers have allocated £10,000 grants to equip staff with the skills to make the Remploy factories “viable”.
Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, the Minister for Disabled People, said the grants would help staff prepare a “business model” to run the factories without need for a subsidy.
But critics say the grants are a drop in the ocean compared to multimillion pound funding cut and warn the factories would not be able to function without being supported by subsidy.
Mr Denham called the grants a “fig leaf” as the Government was embarrassed about shutting Remploy factories.
Phil Davies, of the GMB union, said a public subsidy of just £1 for every UK taxpayer would allow the network to stay open.