Learning disability charity Mencap has launched its Step Up programme, which aims to support young people with a learning disability or communication difficulty who have offended or are at risk of offending into employment.
The programme, launched to coincide with Learning Disability Work Experience Week (9-13 November), aims to engage and support participants to move into employment through social action initiatives and tailored support.
The two-year pilot programme builds on Mencap’s Raising Your Game programme, which saw 327 training courses delivered to more than 2,600 young people and found that criminal justice professionals show a lack of understanding of the support people with a learning disability require. Step up will initially launch in the Manchester region in Salford, Bolton and Rochdale, and the West Midlands region in Hereford, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Wolverhampton and Walsall.
Qasim Butt, who has a learning disability and is a Mencap employee, said: "Mencap have helped me develop my employability skills in the past and I feel as though this has really helped me secure a job. I am now working for Mencap on the Step Up project and I am looking to use my skills to help others with a learning disability. I think the Step Up project is really fun and also helps people develop their skills."
The first phase of the programme will focus on participants with a learning disability designing and delivering a community impact project. They will identify and address a need in their local community, such as selling cakes to raise money for a local homeless shelter or running a cyber-bullying awareness campaign. The projects will develop participants’ confidence and transferable skills such as planning and teamwork.
Step Up will also engage with employers in the local area by raising awareness of the support needs of young offenders with a learning disability or communication difficulty. The long-term aim of the programme is to support employers to recruit, support and retain employees with a learning disability.
This is timely as the number of people with learning disabilities in paid employment known to English councils has fallen from 7.1% in 2012 to just 6% in 2015, according to statistics recently released by the British Association for Supported Employment.
Lara Burnett, project manager at Mencap, said: "Providing the right support to get people with a learning disability back into employment is important. We know how important it is to engage employers on the benefits employing somebody with a learning disability can bring. With access to good-quality training and proper support, people with a learning disability can thrive in the workplace and be highly valued employees."