The government has been trumpeting its figures on employment and support allowance which, they say, show that 75% of new applicants are found fit for work or abandon their claim before completing the medical assessment.
Leaving aside the arguments about the fairness and accuracy of the work capability assessment that is used to determine people’s fitness for employment one of the main questions has to be how many of these people have been able to find a job?
And, how many of those have a learning disability? While government figures are unclear on this, it is certain that some of those found fit for work will have learning disabilities. How many of those have found a job?
Not many, I suspect. As Dr Marc Bush, head of research and public policy for disability charity Scope recently said, disabled people face multiple, complex barriers to finding jobs.
But getting a job is not easy for anyone at the moment. Last time I looked, there were about 2.5 million people unemployed. Add in a proportion of current incapacity benefit claimants – who are in the process of being reassessed for their eligibility – and you have a figure approaching 3 million. That’s without public sector job cuts; these are expecting to kick in over the coming months.
So, however many that ultimate future is, it is certainly a lot of people chasing jobs. This would not be so much of a problem if there were lots of jobs out there. Largely, there aren’t. While some employers are recruiting, many are simply concentrating on survival.
Add in the additional problems people with learning disabilities have in finding employment – from needing support to employer prejudice – and getting a job can seem an even more remote possibility.
The government is launching its Work Programme to provide “specialist back-to-work support” but there needs to be even more specialist help for people with learning disabilities, especially those who’ve never been in paid work, or have been unemployed for some years. Help with such things as identifying suitable jobs, writing CVs, setting up interviews and liaising with potential employers can be invaluable.
There are schemes already out there – doing some very good work in getting people with learning disabilities into employment – and these need to be supported and, where appropriate, extended. Without them, people with learning disabilities can find it very difficult to get work.
The government’s aim to get people off benefits and into employment is laudable – although suspicions remain that at least some of it is driven by the cuts agenda But for people with learning disabilities it will only work if they are given the specialist support they need. Without it, many will become stuck on jobseeker’s allowance – or even exit the benefit system entirely – which will help no-one in the long run.