Inclusion, sport and a manifesto for adult education

Award-winning sportspeople have had a big impact in the WEA this week.

One of Great Britain’s most successful Paralympians, Tanni Grey-Thompson, gave the WEA’s Annual Lecture on 11 June at Birkbeck University. She seemed disarmingly easy-going as she packed several powerful political points into her speech, talking with unpretentious warmth and wit.

Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ruth Spellman

Tanni Grey-Thompson and Ruth Spellman

She recalled her response to being told as a young woman that her wheelchair was a fire risk in a public building: “I’ve never spontaneously combusted before.” Her anecdotes about being a traveller in a wheelchair were shocking and absurd in equal measure. Her response? “I don’t want special treatment, just the same miserable commute as everyone else.”

Tanni’s commitment to politics for social good and to education as an enabler shone through. This was a very appropriate context for Ruth Spellman, our CEO and General Secretary, to launch the WEA’s Manifesto – “Making a difference to communities throughout the UK”.

The Manifesto includes nine key recommendations:

1. Ensure there is always an opportunity for adults to return to learning
2. Promote equality, opportunity and productivity at work
3. Develop educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged
4. Help people stay active throughout life through health education
5. Reduce health inequalities to give people more control over their own wellbeing
6. Promote tolerance and inclusion through access to English
7. Value lifelong learning so adults of any age can study
8. Help parents become educational role models
9. Value volunteering through a single credible set of measurements

While Tanni was talking in London, members of the Bumble Bees Barbarians mixed ability rugby team were appearing on the BBC’s  Look North regional news programme as it was broadcast from Leeds.

Bumbles_LookNorth

Harry Gration, Amy Garcia, Anthony Brooke, Leon Taylor, Dan Cookson, Martino Corazza. (Photo by Joseph Haskey, WEA)

The Bingley-based Bumble Bees have been awarded the prestigious Rugby Football Union President’s Award for their innovative mixed ability approach to the game and for using rugby as a vehicle for social change. The WEA hasn’t moved into sports management but is working in partnership with the players to promote inclusion and to challenge stereotypes about disability.

WEA tutor Mark Goodwin has worked with the players since a student on another WEA course asked about setting up a rugby team. The educational aspects of the partnership have enabled players with Learning Disabilities to develop skills for describing and presenting their experiences in sport to RFU clubs so that neighbouring teams can get over their “fear factor” of playing against disabled players and mixed ability teams.

The Bumbles have gained in confidence, become accomplished public speakers and taught others about diversity and inclusion. It’s been a win-win process and we’ve all learnt a lot.

Tanni Grey-Thompson said in her lecture that, “If you’re told constantly that you can’t do things you might start to believe it.” She and the Bumbles show what’s possible when people believe that they can do things, but they don’t sugar-coat their messages.

Remploy update – segregation or unemployment?

The WEA works on the principle that equality, diversity and inclusion are better for everyone and I blogged in August 2012 on The Paralympics, ATOS and Remploy. The blog is here.

At the time I wrote that:

The Government’s rationale for the factory closures is that disabled people shouldn’t be segregated at work.

The test will be what happens to the workers who lose their jobs and whether suitable alternatives really are available in integrated workplaces.

The last three Remploy factories in Blackburn, Sheffield and Neath closed on 31 October ending 60 years of specialist employment for people with a disability. The final closures put 150 more people out of work and marked the end of a decline since the late 1980s when Remploy employed more than 10,000, mostly disabled, people across 94 sites.

Statistics are available now to show what’s happened so far to ex-employees. A feature on page 5, Issue 1352, of Private Eye reports that 1,326 people, two thirds of workers who lost their jobs when the factories closed, are still unemployed or found work and lost it again.

Other online information available on the progress of people who worked in the 48 factories that have already closed, also suggests that the overwhelming majority have not found new jobs, although the detailed statistics are not consistent. Presumably the figures change on a daily basis, so represent snapshots at different times, but they are indicative. They don’t include people affected by the last three factory closures.

  • 2,580 Remploy employees have been made redundant.
  • 1,940 of these employees are disabled.
  • 390 disabled employees have transferred to new employers.

Remploy Employment Services, who are providing support and guidance, have been guaranteed government funding until 2015 but the decision as to who will own it after this point is still being decided.

Some workers in Halifax and Wales have invested their redundancy money in creating new businesses with their former colleagues and still work in segregated workplaces, albeit for themselves. In one case they are even working in the former Remploy factory at Fforestbach.

There’s a fairly balanced commentary here outlining the actions and decisions of successive governments and some of the financial arguments.

This quotation from the ITV News website here summarises the conflicting attitudes behind the decision to close the factories:

For some, it represents a long-overdue progression from paternalistic attitudes towards disability and work; for others an unforgivable betrayal.

Considering the ethics, personal and social impact as well as the economics of segregated employment versus unemployment is important but, whatever it represents to observers and commentators, the situation is a reality for ex-employees and their families as they face an uncertain future.