Recent media reports are speculating about the future of protected place funding for supported employment businesses, such as my own, Royal Strathclyde Blindcraft Industries (RSBi), in Glasgow. Community represents hundreds of disabled members within supported businesses throughout the UK.
The DWP announced back in April 2017 that there would be no extension to the current funding for protected places within supported businesses beyond March 2019, which is through the Work Choice Scheme. This funding supports 660 places in Scotland alone, 109 of which are at RSBi.
RSBi employs over 260 people over half of whom have a disability. From its roots as a supported factory for the visually impaired, RSBi is today committed to providing opportunities for people with disabilities, as well as helping towards the economic regeneration of the local community and beyond.
This contribution makes RSBi one of the country’s leading examples of social enterprise, combining commercial success with socially responsible practices.
Over the past 5 years RSBi has provided many opportunities for young people with disabilities to progress into skilled mainstream employment through City Building Glasgow’s apprenticeship programme as joiners, painters and floor-fitters.
This funding cut will see over half a million pounds of vital support funding cut from RSBi alone, not to mention the smaller supported businesses throughout the UK, many of which provide vital sustainable employment, education and training for those furthest away from the labour market.
Over the years many welfare powers have been devolved to the Scottish Government, however the protected places funding remains the responsibility of the DWP. Since the April announcement in April 2017, it appears that the DWP have been reluctant to enter into meaningful dialogue on any proposals.
Community has written to ministers inviting them to visit RSBI and we welcome the news that the invite has been accepted and await a confirmed date for the visit. Community will continue to press on behalf of our members the importance of continued funding for the supported businesses and our members’ security.
If the UK and Scottish Governments are truly committed to their pledge to cut the disability employment gap by half, I would urge them to engage in true meaningful dialogue with Community and other organisations representing supported businesses throughout the UK.
We all need to work towards a solution which supports both the individuals and those businesses which, like RSBi, provide sustainable meaningful employment, and training opportunities to those who feel confident and able to progress into mainstream employment.
Steven McGurk is the disabled members representative on Community’s National Executive Council and Branch Secretrary of NLBD Glasgow.