The government is re-focusing its disability employment services in response to the Sayce Review, with the aim of getting more disabled people into mainstream employment. One question springs instantly to mind: what jobs are out there?
Getting a job at the moment is difficult enough for anyone – 2.67 million people are currently unemployed, according to figures released today by the Office for National Statistics – let alone someone with learning disabilities, and all the barriers to employment they generally face.
While the minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, talks positively about how using the £320 million disability employment services budget more effectively – for example, by cutting funding to the loss-making Remploy – will get thousands more disabled people into work, there have to be serious doubts about whether this aim can really be achieved, in the current economic climate.
Put simply, unemployment is still rising, and the number of jobs available isn’t keeping pace, which means that competition for them is becoming increasingly fierce. Those businesses that are looking to recruit new staff are often looking for people with experience. This has an adverse impact on people with learning disabilities, many of whom do not have much, if any, workplace experience.
But there are other barriers. For instance, disability discrimination is meant to have been outlawed but anecdotally, still often seems to be practised – if sometimes unwittingly – by employers. This is despite evidence that many people with learning disabilities make very good employees and can be just as effective as their non-disabled peers. However, stigma and prejudice can be very hard to break down.
Refocusing employment support to individuals, through services like Access to Work, will hopefully help, and more money should also be directed at existing schemes that are doing some very good work in getting people with learning disabilities into jobs. Without such services, they can find it very difficult to get work.
But until the economy picks up, and more businesses are willing to take on new recruits, people with learning disabilities will more than likely find it difficult to get a job. Much like the rest of the population.