Learning disability employment across England has fallen by 9% overall compared to last year, with just one in 20 (5%) supported, working-age adults with a learning disability now in paid employment.

The research, collated from NHS Digital by learning disability nurse recruitment specialists MCG Healthcare, found that some areas of England had zero adults with learning disabilities in paid employment in 2021.

Fewer than a quarter of English councils reported an improvement in the learning disability unemployment rate, with the areas with the biggest year-on-year drops being:

  • Hammersmith and Fulham (-100%)
  • Hounslow (-87%)
  • Luton (79%)
  • Merton (69%)
  • Stoke-on-Trent (-58%).

Paid roles provide crucial opportunities for independence and improved confidence for those with a learning disability. For this reason, experts are now calling on employers and local authorities to evaluate the accessibility of online recruitment processes, home working practices and mental health support.

Having a neurodiverse community within an organisation can have a “massive benefit”

Matt Boyd, founder of neurodiverse recruitment agency Exceptional Individuals, said the pandemic is partly to blame, since Covid-19 disproportionately affected people with learning disabilities.

“Some of the challenges really show up in the recruitment process. Shifting everything online over the past few years has made things especially difficult for our community, who live with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning differences and disabilities that show when processing information.

“The challenges have definitely become more prominent since the pandemic: there's a lot more anxiety. People with neurodiversities and learning disabilities are more likely to have mental health problems anyway and the pandemic only added to that. Many are still dealing with the after-effects, which makes it that much harder to find work,” he said.

He added that having a neurodiverse community within your organisation can be hugely valuable, as they can offer new insights and perspectives, as well as solutions to ongoing issues.  

“They’ll represent a section of your customer base, since they’d be the ones buying your products a lot of the time. They can give you the point of view of the 10% of the population who have learning disabilities or neurodivergence, which is an absolutely massive benefit,” he said.

Employers should undertake additional learning disability employment training

Sheryl Miller, diversity & inclusivity consultant and author, added that home-working has also created barriers to employment for some groups. She explains:

“For some people with learning disabilities, the increase in home working may be a disadvantage. It potentially leads to the individual having less in-person support and it may limit the ways in which the individual can be coached or instructed on a task. We all have learning preferences, but for someone with a learning disability, they may have less flexibility about how they can receive instructions and information and still effectively carry out a task.

“Home-working, therefore, may limit the ways in which messages can be communicated, unless managers and colleagues are very creative. They may also have a preference for routines and set places, which the pandemic may have disrupted.”

Ms Miller suggests that employers undertake additional training and self-learning to become more aware of the additional support that may be required for someone whose neurodiversity creates particular challenges.