UK charity calls for bolder action to cut disability employment gap

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Mencap, the UK’s leading learning disability charity, has called for more meaningful action to overcome ‘the woefully low employment levels of people with a learning disability’.

The charity’s call comes after new research revealed that just 52 per cent of the public say they would prefer to work for a company that employs people with a learning disability. Public attitudes, the charity says, directly affect learning disability employment levels. Just 5.8 per cent of people with a learning disability known to local authorities in the UK are currently in employment.

The charity also castigates the Government’s recent failure in its DWP Green Paper to set any meaningful milestones in terms of meeting its election manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap. To achieve this, it says, government must:

  • Improve access to apprenticeships
  • Grow the number of supported internships
  • Improve support for employers wanting to take on staff with a learning disability.
  • Boost the number of job coaches
  • Reform the failed Work Capability Assessment, which continues to incorrectly assess people with a learning disability as being ‘fit-for-work’

As part of its campaign the charity has also produced a video featuring interviewees who were asked how they feel about working with someone who has a learning disability. Despite some responses revealing outdated stereotypical opinions an overwhelming majority of interviewees were supportive of employment for people with a learning disability, with many saying that they would like employers to do more to make their workplace more accessible.

The research and video coincide with the launch of Mencap and Inclusive Employer’s Learning Disability Work Experience Week (7-11 November).

Jan Tregelles, chief executive of Mencap, said:

This research and public reactions really highlight how a lack of understanding around what people with a learning disability are capable of is a crucial factor in the woefully low employment rates experienced by people with a learning disability.

It is however hugely encouraging that when made to think about the issue the public came out in overwhelming support towards employing people with a learning disability, but disheartening to see the outdated assumptions people still have around learning disability. It’s these assumptions which run through society that can make it so challenging for people with a disability to secure employment.

She aded:

In fact, our experience with employers shows that employing a person with a learning disability has an overwhelming amount of benefits for a company: people with a learning disability tend to be more hardworking, take less sick days, boost overall employee morale and open up a whole new market of disabled customers. Employers we work with consistently tell us how with a little effort they’ve made their workplaces inclusive to people with a learning disability and encourage others to take the same steps.

Richard McKenna, Director of Inclusive Employers, said:

Learning Disability Work Experience Week is not only a much needed opportunity for people with a learning disability to gain work place experience, but it also offers companies the chance to maximise business potential through inclusion.

Many companies who have not much experience working with people with a learning disability may initially find the prospect slightly daunting, despite the many benefits that it can bring to their business. That’s why four years ago we started working with Mencap to create Learning Disability Work Experience Week. Each year the initiative has grown, and we continue to see participants being offered employment.

Vijay Patel, who has a learning disability and has applied unsuccessfully for over 50 full-time jobs, said:

I was not surprised when I saw the research into what the public think about employing people with a learning disability. I think that sometimes employers see my learning disability before they see me, and that makes it a lot harder for me to get a job — even though I have the skills to do it.

I have been applying for jobs for a long time now. I work one day a week in a local pub, and also volunteer for Mencap, but I would really like to get a full-time job in an office. I have a lot of office based skills, and I would like to work somewhere I can have opportunities.

I am really happy to have a work placement during Learning Disability Work Experience Week; it will be a great chance to get more experience. It’s good to have Mencap and Inclusive Employers supporting me with my job search; they believe in me, and I believe in me, so I know I can do it.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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