I can’t go to Tesco these days without seeing someone with a
learning difficulty. Usually doing their own shopping, but
sometimes working in the shop or on their way to somewhere
I only notice this because it’s my job to work with people with
learning difficulties. Like others in this line of work, I worry
about whether inclusion is working. We’re four years on from the
Valuing People white paper, with its talk of inclusion and
independence, and many of us were working towards these goals long
But in England, only 10 per cent of those with mild to moderate
learning difficulties and of working age are employed.
Remploy, which provides jobs for disabled people, is setting up
a national initiative to work on the government’s proposal to move
one million people off incapacity benefit and into work in the next
five years. I hope it will recommend simplifying the benefits
system. The fact is that if they want to keep their severe
disablement allowance and their disability living allowance they
can earn only £20 a week; given the minimum wage, this equates
to no more than four hours’ permitted work.
Or perhaps they might want to earn up to £78 a week to do
supported permitted work. Or perhaps not, when this could affect
their income support or housing and council tax benefits. Or they
can come off benefit and do a job topped up with tax credits, or
New Deal, or Work Step, to name a few. Confused? I am, and it’s
part of my job. No wonder most people with learning difficulties
are unwilling to risk it.
Transport is another barrier to inclusion. Individuals doing
their own thing need unique transport plans, which cost more than
coaches to day centres, and that brings us to another issue: money.
Money might not be the root of all evil where inclusion is
concerned – but it’s significant. It dictates whether one person
accompanies an individual to buy groceries or one person orders in
bulk from a cash and carry for 40 people.
But I will end positively. Most people with learning
difficulties want to be out there, and increasingly they are. Next
time you visit Tesco, spare a thought for the person in front of
you in the queue, or the person who packs your bags. People with
learning difficulties are everywhere, just like everyone else.
Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working
with people with learning difficulties.