United ResponseThe issue of low levels of employment for people with learning disabilities and/or autism is being highlighted at the Labour and Conservative party conferences by disability charity United Response.

The charity is speaking out against poor levels of employment, saying that despite many people with learning disabilities and/or autism wanting to work and being able to only 7 % of those with learning disabilities and 15% of people with autism are currently in employment, compared with 46% of people with disabilities generally and 76% of the population as a whole. United Response is also emphasising the need to make pre-employment support available for those with more complex needs. 

United Response hosted a fringe event at the Labour party conference on September 29 to deliver the message, and will also host one at the Conservatives’ on October 6.

The events have three main messages:

Targeted employment support programmes that also include people with complex needs.   The government is reviewing current provision for specialist programmes, such as Work Choice, but United Response believes it is vital to expand capacity to enable people to self-refer and to divert existing Work Programme participants with a disability to Work Choice.  The charity wants pre-work support programmes to be measured and as valued as the 16 hours plus of work required to be classed as working. This would allow people with complex disabilities to step on the road to employment

Raising aspirations among young people and their families – the ‘presumption of employability.’ United Response want support available for young people with learning disabilities, particularly between ages 14 – 25, at a local level, close to home, and as soon as they are ready to move on from school or college

Promoting reasonable adjustments around ‘unseen disability’ to employers. There is a growing awareness among employers about making ‘reasonable adjustments’ for someone who uses a wheelchair or who has a sensory impairment, but there is a lack of understanding about what employers can do for an applicant with a learning disability or mental health need. Creating accessible application forms and job descriptions could make a huge difference, as could alternative interview processes, such as work trials.

A survey carried out among United Response’s supported living and outreach services showed that 29% of people currently supported by the charity are engaged in some form of work-related activity, however a further 23% say they want to work. 

David Allkins and Aishah Jackson, who both experienced difficulties in finding work, but who are now in employment with help from United Response, will be on the panels at the fringe events. They will discuss what they feel needs to be done to make employment more of a realistic option, especially for young people with learning disabilities.

For instance, Allkins, who has Asperger’s syndrome, left University with a BA Hons in Combined Studies, yet struggled to find work. “Several things have held me back from gaining long-term employment since leaving full time education; limited work experience, long periods of unemployment, not being good at formal interviews and even putting details of my disability on application forms,” he says.

“The gradual drip feed of failure does erode your confidence and sense of self. I was lucky enough to start working with United Response in their Truro office as an administrative consultant following a one day trial interview. Having this job helped my sense of identity, stability and security and my confidence has grown. My new-found confidence allowed me to successfully interview, with the help of my job coach, for the position of political correspondent to help promote United Response’s Every Vote Counts campaign. I was obviously successful and now I am attending party conference as a news correspondent and a valued member of the United Response workforce.”