Although the majority of people with a learning disability want to work, only 20% of working age people with a mild or moderate learning disability and just 6% of people with a severe learning disability are in employment. Compared to 79% of the general population, this means a huge number of learning disabled people are being denied the opportunity to work.
The barriers that stop people from working can vary, but people with a learning disability often face issues such as:
The government is attempting to tackle employers’ attitudes and provide support through the Access to Work scheme. This can help employers make reasonable adjustments and support people in their job. But before they can make use of this, disabled people need to be given opportunities to learn skills, gain confidence and get the same opportunities as everyone else.
The story of Kate*, someone Dosh supports who recently started work, helps illustrate the many different types of support needed for someone with a learning disability to be able to work.
Kate found a job in a warehouse thanks to a scheme run by the Prince’s Trust. With their support, she was able to understand what employers were looking for, gain skills and meet companies who understood the value of disabled employees.
As well as the normal nerves everyone has before starting a new job, Kate had additional worries that she wouldn’t be able to cope with working full time or keep up with her co-workers. Kate was sure she would always fall behind, as she hadn’t see other people “like her” in the workplace.
Kate’s advocate helped her understand her right to ask for reasonable adjustments so that her work hours could be reduced to a manageable level. Dosh also helped Kate to learn new budgeting skills so that she could manage her wages and pay her bills. Finally, we helped her to apply for Working Tax Credit so that she was getting all the money she was entitled to.
However, Kate still felt like other people in her workplace judged her for needing this or felt like she was getting preferential treatment. It took a long time before she felt like they had got to know her as a person and saw her as an equal. However, eventually her colleagues recognised the hard work and persistence that made Kate a valuable employee and great co-worker.
Kate’s story shows that even when people with a learning disability manage to access work, they can still face additional barriers due to other people’s attitudes and assumptions. The challenge is therefore not only to give people the skills, confidence, opportunities and support they need, but also to change attitudes to disability more widely.
One programme attempting to do just this is Change100, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire and Koreo (which also runs CharityWorks, a graduate leadership programme that Dosh partners with each year).
Change100 recognises the need to challenge the employment gap not only through opportunities for disabled people, but also through challenging our ideas about what disability is and what disabled people can do. Change100 does this through 3 month paid work experience placements with top employers such as Barclays, the BBC, Skanska and Lloyds, amongst others.
There are other organisations across the world doing interesting projects to address the disability employment gap that we could learn from. For example, the Danish company Specialisterne trains Autistic people to become high-value consultants for the tech industry. Instead of seeing autism as a barrier to finding work, they emphasise the value that come from including people who are not ‘neurotypical’ amongst the workforce.
In the UK, there are organisations such as Remploy and Mencap doing great work and campaigning in this area. Support providers have recognised for a long time that there is huge value to employing ‘experts by experience’ to design the best possible care and support. For example, 40% of Directors within the Thera Group have a learning disability.
However, we need to make sure that people with a learning disability aren’t just employed within the social care sector. Disabled people have a huge amount of value to offer any workplace and we need to fight for more and better jobs for people. Whether people start by volunteering at a local community centre or gaining confidence at a self-advocacy group, we need to make sure there are opportunities for people at every step of the way.
At Dosh, we hope to empower people to make the most of their life by having more independence and control over their money. This could mean helping someone understand how their benefits might change if they started work, or giving people opportunities to have a real say over how our support works.
We are currently recruiting for a (voluntary) Non-Executive Director with a learning disability for our Board, so if you or someone you know might be interested in taking on a new challenge then please get in touch to learn more.
Meike Beckford October 12th, 2017