Several schemes that seek to help people with learning disabilities into employment have been celebrating their success recently. But more is needed to raise the percentage of adults with learning disabilities in employment.
Ask adults with learning disabilities what their ambition in life is and many will simply say they want a paid job. For example, when disability charity Action for Kids held a participation day last year when it was setting up its Transition Service, the number one outcome youngsters wanted for their lives was meaningful employment.
Yet employment rates among people with learning disabilities remains stubbornly low – about 10% – and this figure hasn’t changed in several years.
There are initiatives out there trying to make a difference. For example, Action for Kids’ Transition Service has helped to place 12 young people with disabilities – physical and learning – into paid employment in the past year. So far, these placements have proved successful, with employers remarking on the employees’ focus and reliability.
Elsewhere, Thera Group’s ‘Dolphins’ Den’ pilot, which saw 20 people with a learning disability or autism take part in three business workshops and receive mentoring from local business people, has resulted in many participants looking to set up their own businesses and community projects. These include a carpentry business, community café, book shop and a creative artwork business.
These show that giving people with learning disabilities specialist support can provide demonstrable results. There are plenty of other schemes out there across the country doing similar things, although they are too often on a small scale.
So it would be good if large-scale government employment initiatives focused more on specialist support for people with learning disabilities.
The government’s Work Programme was criticised earlier this year in a BBC Panorama programme, which alleged that people with disabilities are “parked” by employment firms – which are paid, if they get people on the Work Programme, into a job – and not given the support they need, in favour of others who are viewed as easier to get into work. This accusation is still doing the political rounds.
Nevertheless, the government has maintained that the Work Programme does provide enough support for people with disabilities to overcome barriers to employment. It also revised the rules for the Access to Work scheme – which provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as specially adapted equipment and support workers – in the summer to open it up to more people. An advertising campaign to help businesses become more confident about recruiting disabled people has also been launched by the government in recent months.
But, for me, that isn’t enough: a specialised approach for people with learning disabilities is required to give them the skills and support to get, and maintain, a job. The results of schemes doing just that are out there, and the government could learn a lot from them.
People with learning disabilities often make great employees – they just need to be given the support and the chance to show what they can do.