THE Government has again defended its decision to close 36 of Remploy’s 54 factories after it was accused of condemning disabled people to “languish in the dole queue”.

The row came as the latest unemployment figures for the North-East showed a fall of 11,000, despite the national unemployment rate reaching a near 17-year-high.

Labour MP Helen Goodman said she was saddened and profoundly disappointed by the move, which will cost 135 jobs in the North-East and see the end of Remploy’s Spennymoor’s factory in her Bishop Auckland constituency.

The MP pressed Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg over the closures during exchanges in the House of Commons.

She said: “Before the General Election, you said you were ‘profoundly hostile’ to the closure of Remploy factories.

“Now 1,700 disabled people are losing their jobs because of the closure of 36 factories. What difference have you made?”

Mr Clegg, who was standing in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, replied: “This is a consequence of a review conducted by Liz Sayce, the head of the UK Disability Forum, which is supported by organisations such as Mind and Mencap and others.

“I don’t want to lightly disagree with them because they say – this is their conclusion and what they think we should be doing – they believe segregated employment, which was started in the aftermath of the Second World War, is not the best to promote the interests of disabled people in this country in the 21st Century.”

Later, Ms Goodman said Mr Clegg had provided no reason for his “U-turn” on Remploy and was “failing to explain why what was wrong in opposition is now right in Government”.

She said: “The Government’s decision to close the Remploy factory in my constituency has condemned scores of disabled people to languish on the dole queue.

“I have arranged a meeting with Remploy workers because I have grave concerns about the impact this will have.”

Yesterday’s unemployment figures put the national rate at 8.4 per cent after another rise in the jobless total to almost 2.7 million.

The North-East retained the highest unemployment rate in England, Scotland and Wales – 10.8 per cent – although for the second month in a row the actual number of people out of work fell.

Between November and January, there were 138,000 people unemployed, down 11,000 on the previous quarter.

James Ramsbotham, North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive, said: “While we must not get carried away, this news must receive a cautious welcome and does reflect increasing business positivity from our membership.”