Council under fire over lack of support for BlindCraft staff

Fraser Queen is one of the former BlindCraft workers who feels the council has failed to keep its vow to help former staff find alternative work
Fraser Queen is one of the former BlindCraft workers who feels the council has failed to keep its vow to help former staff find alternative work
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CHRISTMAS has put a strain on most households this year, every penny being watched as the economic downturn continues to bite.

But for 45-year-old David Anderson, facing the prospect of being out of work in a matter of months has added to his worries.

Fraser Queen, David Anderson and colleagues on the day of the factory's closure

Fraser Queen, David Anderson and colleagues on the day of the factory's closure

The father-of-one, who suffers from a condition that affects his central nervous system, used to work at the BlindCraft factory in Craigmillar and is one of only a handful of disabled former workers who managed to secure a new job after the council closed the bed- making unit five months ago to save £1 million a year.

But with a temporary, part-time contract due to run out by the summer, he is both worried and angry – and he is not the only one.

Today the council is accused of throwing such disabled workers “on the scrapheap” after it emerged only 11 of the 37-strong disabled workforce at BlindCraft have new jobs.

Like David, pictured below, many are on temporary contracts facing an uncertain future. From the original 37, six have gone on to re-train while 18 have decided not to look for new jobs, their former colleagues insisting they feel their disabilities will prevent them gaining employment.

Despite the council previously vowing to help find them work within the local authority, only two disabled people have been taken on.

Mr Anderson, who has cerebellar ataxia, started working at BlindCraft when it became too dangerous for him to work elsewhere. Along with other former BlindCraft workers, he managed to secure a year-long placement at St Jude’s Laundry, in Restalrig, working three days a week, but is worried about what will happen when his contract ends.

“Money is important but it’s more than that,” he said. “I’m disabled and already feel at a disadvantage because of that. To not be able to work will make that even worse.

“If I can go out and work I can help the society I live in and be part of that society, and not have to rely on people saying, ‘look at poor Dave, he needs a hand’.

“I need a hand up, not a handout.”

With a partner and a 19-year-old son to support, Mr Anderson said he was grateful to have a job at St Jude’s, but that it left a “sour taste” when a charitable organisation “had to offer me employment when my local council treated me like this”.

He said: “This has been purely financial and has had nothing to do with helping people with disabilities. We’ve been put out the door and just forgotten about.

“I know for a fact St Jude’s will not be keeping us on so I’ve applied for an ILA [training] course to go for retraining and try to get something else, but I feel my disability impacts so much that a sheltered workshop was my main hope. I’ve got to just keep looking elsewhere and hope that someone sees ability rather than disabilities.

“I’ve been brought up in a working-class family and I always wanted to work and always have worked. It is important for my self-esteem that I can go out and earn money and not become totally reliant on benefits because then people think you’re just a dole scrounger. I want to go out to work and support my family.”

As well as its disabled staff, the 218-year-old BlindCraft employed 26 able-bodied workers, with five now given roles within the council and nine gaining employment elsewhere.

Fraser Queen, 45, worked at BlindCraft for 24 years and has managed to find a job as a “service excellence consultant” with Sky.

“A lot of people felt it was just a tick-box exercise and there was no great desire to find them future employment,” he said. “The ones that really need the help – those with bad learning difficulties – are not getting the help.

“It is about contributing to society. That is what these people want to do, they have done it for years and that is what they are used to.

“I think more of an effort could have been made. The council wants to sever all ties, pay redundancy and get them out of their hair.

“The point is, why set targets [on disabled workers] if there is no inclination to reach them? It might be the PC thing to do but why bother if you don’t try to meet them?”

The disappointment comes as new figures reveal the council is well short of its own target of disabled people making up at least six per cent of its workforce. The figures, up to the end of the 2010/11 financial year, show only 1.6 per cent of workers are disabled – and that will dramatically fall once BlindCraft job losses are taken into account for this year’s figures.

Labour councillor Lesley Hinds, who campaigned to try to keep the facility open, said: “We were promised by the council administration they would do everything in their power to get them [disabled BlindCraft workers] jobs within the council. Two is not everything in their power – they are abdicating their duties and leaving these workers on the scrapheap.”

Economic leader, Councillor Tom Buchanan, said that as only two out of the 37 disabled workforce from BlindCraft were now seeking employment, in the current economic climate it is something to be “extremely proud of”.

He added: “It was important for council staff working with their BlindCraft colleagues facing redundancy that they made the right choice and went on to achieve a positive outcome.

“Eleven former disabled staff now have jobs, with a further six going into further education and 18 deciding to retire. Even though BlindCraft has closed we are still providing support to disabled ex-staff.”

More than a quarter of council workers have not stated if they are disabled, so officials are trying to ascertain whether its figures on disabled workers are correct.

mblackley@edinburghnews.com

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