Just 5.8% of people with a learning disability known to local authorities are in employment, yet just over half of the public - 52% - say they would prefer to work for a company that employs people with a learning disability, according to a survey.
The research, by learning disability charity Mencap, also found that 62% of the public said they have never worked with someone who has a learning disability.
Following this, and what Mencap feels is the government’s failure in its recent Green Paper to set any meaningful milestones in terms of meeting its manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap, the charity has announced the steps it feels the government needs to take to successfully achieve its manifesto commitment.
Mencap believes that to overcome the woefully low employment levels of people with a learning disability, the following needs to happen:
• Improving access to apprenticeships
• Growing the number of supported internships
• Improving support for employers wanting to take on staff with a learning disability.
• Boosting the number of job coaches
• Reform of the failed Work Capability Assessment which continues to incorrectly assess people with a learning disability as being ‘fit-for-work’.
To better understand the public’s attitudes towards employment of people with a learning disability, Mencap has produced a video that explores the public’s gut reactions when asked about working with someone who has a learning disability. Despite many revealing outdated stereotypical opinions on why it may be hard for a person with a learning disability to successfully secure a job, an overwhelming majority were supportive of employment for people with a learning disability, with many interviewees saying that they would like employers to do more to make their workplace accessible to people with a learning disability.
The research and video coincide with the launch of Mencap and Inclusive Employer’s Learning Disability Work Experience Week. Working with companies including The Guardian, Channel 4, McDonalds, the NHS, BBC, and Wetherspoon’s to provide work placements across the country for people with a learning disability.
Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said: “This research and public reactions really highlights how a lack of understanding around what people with a learning disability are capable of is a crucial factor in the woefully low employment rates experienced by people with a learning disability.
“It is however hugely encouraging that when made to think about the issue the public came out in overwhelming support towards employing people with a learning disability, but disheartening to see the outdated assumptions people still have around learning disability. It’s these assumptions which run through society that can make it so challenging for people with a disability to secure employment.
“That’s why it’s important to open up a discussion around the fears and concerns that people have about working with somebody with a learning disability. By tackling this head on we can breakdown these barriers; which more often than not are far from reality. In fact, our experience with employers shows that employing a person with a learning disability has an overwhelming amount of benefits for a company; people with a learning disability tend to be more hardworking, take less sick days, boost overall employee morale and opens up a whole new market of disabled customers.
“Employers we work with consistently tell us how with a little effort they’ve made their workplaces inclusive to people with a learning disability and encourage others to take the same steps. Whilst employers can play a big role, the Government must play its part by opening up apprenticeships to people with a learning disability, reforming the failed ‘fit-for-work test’, offering more support to employers and putting an end to a benefits system that can trap people with a learning disability in a cycle of poverty.”
Richard McKenna, director of Inclusive Employers, added: “Learning Disability Work Experience Week is not only a much needed opportunity for people with a learning disability to gain work place experience, but it also offers companies the chance to maximise business potential through inclusion.
“Many companies who have not much experience working with people with a learning disability may initially find the prospect slightly daunting, despite the many benefits that it can bring to their business. That’s why 4 years ago we started working with Mencap to create Learning Disability Work Experience Week. Each year the initiative has grown, and we continue to see participants being offered employment.”
Vijay Patel has a learning disability and has applied unsuccessfully for more than 50 full-time jobs. He is taking part in Learning Disability Work Experience Week: “I was not surprised when I saw the research into what the public think about employing people with a learning disability. I think that sometimes employers see my learning disability before they see me, and that makes it a lot harder for me to get a job- even though I have the skills to do it’
“I have been applying for jobs for a long time now. I work one day a week in a local pub, and also volunteer for Mencap, but I would really like to get a full time job in an office. I have a lot of office based skills, and I would like to work somewhere I can have opportunities.”
“I am really happy to have a work placement during Learning Disability Work Experience Week; it will be a great chance to get more experience. It’s good to have Mencap and Inclusive Employers supporting me with my job search; they believe in me, and I believe in me, so I know I can do it.”