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Blog: giving people with learning disabilities access to work

13th March 2017

Image shows a close-up of Micheal Hagan, Service User Trustee at The Advocacy Project and Fatima Begum, SURGE learning disability representative.

Michael Hagan and Fatima Begum


From employers’ negative attitudes and views, to limited support in finding jobs, there are many reasons why people with learning disabilities struggle to secure and keep paid work.

Sadly there are low expectations of what people with learning disabilities can achieve and the value they bring to the workplace. But with the right support, they are good workers with huge potential — like the rest of the working population. They need their confidence and self-esteem boosting and skills building.

The Advocacy Project‘s staff with learning disabilities and service users tell us they’re not getting the support they need from employers. This can also be seen quite clearly from the statistics.


A gap in the workforce

The Health and Social Care Information Centre says that 5.8 percent of adults with a learning disability in England were in paid employment in 2015-16 — down from 7.1 percent in 2011-12.

In comparison, in January 2016, around 47 percent of working age disabled people in the UK were in employment, says the Papworth Trust’s Disability in the United Kingdom 2016 Facts and Figures report. Meanwhile, the report says 84 percent of non-disabled people were working in January 2016.


How do we create access to work?

With around 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK and an expected 32 percent increase in young adults with learning disabilities by 2030, it’s vital we increase access to employment.

Government, corporate businesses and charities all need to do more to deliver on this. I realise it’s a difficult situation, and that some progress has already been made, but we’ve got a long way to go before people with learning disabilities achieve their full potential.

We need to address the challenges and barriers such as the impact of work on benefits and permitted earning limits, the quality of support in finding jobs and concerns about travel.

The benefits system, for example, is a complex beast which anyone would struggle navigating. But for people with learning disabilities, it can be especially difficult. The Department for Work and Pensions and Job Centres need to have a greater awareness of learning disabilities to help individuals access the right advice and support.

We also need to promote positive attitudes towards learning disabilities in the workplace, and support employers to recruit more people with learning disabilities. But it doesn’t stop there. Once people with learning disabilities are in work, they need continuous support.


Improving accessibility in the workplace

People with learning disabilities may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people. Companies need to think about accessibility, across all aspects of their business, when employing individuals with learning disabilities.

At The Advocacy Project, we provide both paid work and volunteer opportunities for people with learning disabilities. Around 38 percent of our staff members have learning disabilities. It’s important we create an environment where people feel valued and can carry out their roles effectively.

Michael, who has a learning disability, has been working with The Advocacy Project for five years. He also became a trustee of the charity at the end of 2016.

To support him in his trustee role, our staff help Michael to prepare for each board meeting in advance. For instance, he is provided with easy read summaries of board papers, with key points colour coded to highlight items for further discussion and decision making. He then feels confident and able to share his views during board meetings.


Social inclusion is vital

Access to work is a fundamental right for people with learning disabilities and can help them to feel included and valued. People with learning disabilities often feel shut off from the rest of society. By increasing access to paid work, individuals will feel part of their communities. Work has a known therapeutic value.

Yes the extra money offers greater independence and more choices. But most importantly, having a job gives us something to get up for each day. It increases our self worth, which in turn promotes positive mental health and wellbeing.

Married couple Jill and Sandy, who both have learning disabilities, say that working with The Advocacy Project has given them a purpose.

Sandy explains: “We’re involved in so many different things, which may seem small — but together they’re much bigger. We feel part of something which we didn’t have before. We didn’t know where we were going. Now we feel like we’re helping and making a difference.”


Judith Elizabeth Davey

Chief Executive Officer, The Advocacy Project


This blog by Judith Elizabeth Davey, Chief Executive Officer at The Advocacy Project and Co-Chair of Women in Public Policy, was originally posted on The Huffington Post on 13/03/17. The blog post can be accessed here.


Further information

The Advocacy Project


User involvement

Our trustees