Ministers have been accused of cruelty and callousness after they announced plans to shut 15 factories for disabled workers with the loss of nearly 900 jobs.
The posts will be axed in moves to close or sell off Remploy plants - which were set up after the Second World War to provide sheltered employment for the disabled - and divert cash into other work programmes.
Earlier this year the Government announced that 36 of its factories were to close, with more than 1,000 redundancies, and buyers would be sought for the remaining 18.
Today it sealed the fate of 15 plants which manufacture as diverse products as furniture, vehicle head-rests and life-jackets. Remploy also has businesses recycling electrical goods and operating CCTV systems.
The latest announcement means another 875 Remploy staff, including 682 disabled people, face compulsory redundancy, some of whom learnt the news by email.
The policy has been driven by a Government-commissioned report which concluded that the money used to subsidise Remploy could be better used to help the disabled find mainstream jobs.
But unions condemned the decision as heartless in the run-up to Christmas and warned the disabled faced particular problems finding work in the current economic climate.
Each employee already made redundant has been offered help from an £8m “tailored support” package, including careers guidance advice from a caseworker. However, Esther McVey, the disabilities minister, told The Independent this week that only 63 former employees had found other work.
Eight of the latest plants facing closure are in England (Huddersfield, Sheffield, Blackburn, Norwich, Portsmouth, Heywood, Burnley and Sunderland) and two are in south Wales (Neath and Porth).
All five remaining Remploy factories in Scotland – those in Leven, Cowdenbeath, Dundee, Stirling and Clydebank – will close.
Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: “This is a heartless decision by a government that has shown very little interest in protecting the livelihoods of severely-disabled people who need support in and out of work.”
Phil Davies, of the GMB union, said: “This is devastating news but not untypical from this uncaring government who cannot be relied on to protect the vulnerable. To make this announcement three weeks before Christmas is despicable.”
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said: “The timing is callous so close to Christmas, when ministers had previously said the funding for those sites due to close or be sold off in 2013 was secure until August and September next year.”
Irshad Mohammed, 54, who was made redundant in October after 35 years working at Remploy’s factory in Acton, west London, said he was struggling to find work.
“Many of my old colleagues have little hope they will ever find jobs on the outside. By closing Remploy factories, the Government went for people at the bottom who were willing to work.”
He added: “With so many people out of work, why would a manager give me a job when he has 20 young able-bodied people going for the same job?”
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our priority throughout is to safeguard jobs, which is why we are offering a wage subsidy of up to £6,400 per disabled employee to encourage interested parties to come forward.”
He added that the £320 million budget for disability employment services had been ringfenced.
The only Remploy employees who earned a reprieve make automotive products in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby. Their factories are judged to be viable and outside buyers will be sought for them.
Irshad Mohammed, 54, from west London, worked for 35 years at the Remploy factory in Acton. He was made redundant in October and, despite benefiting from the Government’s support package, is yet to find new employment.
“The future looks very bleak for Remploy workers, whatever the promise the Government makes. I was the last man to finish work at the Acton Remploy factory on 27 October. A few people were left to remove the furniture and shut the place up. It’s very sad. The employees were heartbroken. For some people, their only friends were at Remploy and it was more than just a job.
Many of my old colleagues have little hope that they will ever find jobs on the outside. Closing the Remploy factories, the Government went for people at the bottom who were willing to work and were given no choice. People are really down. The Government assigned me a caseworker and we have met twice. She has been helpful but I haven’t found work yet. It is easy to say on a piece of paper that they will help us find work elsewhere, but it won’t happen. With so many people out of work, why would a manager give me a job when he has 20 young able-bodied people going for the same job?”