The handling of a study on barriers to employment facing people with learning difficulties suggests that the issue remains politically marginalised. Mithran Samuel reports
A government-commissioned report, into the barriers to employment facing people with learning difficulties describes the issue as one “that has been ignored and marginalised for too long”.
However, it appears this description could apply to the report itself. The Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health, which co-sponsored and co-chaired the Working Group on Learning Disabilities and Employment, which produced the research, did not publish it on their websites. Nor did they publicise its appearance on the Valuing People Support Team’s website last week.
The report was in fact completed 18 months ago, which is revealed by its reference to various 2005 dates in the future tense.
Minutes from last December’s meeting of the Learning Disability Task Force reveal that ministers were, at that time, yet to see the report, though the DH and DWP had originally planned to publish it on their websites last September.
At its March meeting, the task force was told that the DWP was still “thinking about how to publish this report”, which task force members described as unsatisfactory.
Mencap’s head of policy and working group member David Congdon, says: “Our understanding was that the report would be owned by the two departments [rather than merely being a report to ministers]. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been published 18 months ago.”
He adds that the fact the report was published on the Valuing People Support Team’s website, as opposed to that of the DH or the DWP, suggests “it’s going to be one of those reports that gathers dust”.
Congdon says the report, which puts forward 42 recommendations on how people with learning difficulties’ employment prospects can be improved, appears to have had no influence on the welfare reform programme, enshrined in last month’s Welfare Reform Bill, the government’s flagship policy for helping disabled people into work and off incapacity benefit.
This view gains weight from the fact that the bill’s precursor, January’s welfare reform green paper, does not mention “learning disabilities”.
Other members of the working group say they have had no feedback from the departments about what happened to the report.
David Bailey, employment development co-ordinator at learning difficulties charity United Response, said he had found the report on the [Valuing People] website this week.
Michael Ratcliff, a founder member of advocacy group Taking Part Shrewsbury, says he had neither seen the report nor been told what had happened to it.
He says: “Personally I’m disappointed. A lot of people put a lot of effort into it.”
A DWP spokesperson says the failure to publish the report was because it was being considered as part of the government’s broader work on employment support for disabled people.
He admits that none of the recommendations have been “specifically” addressed but they have informed the “welfare reform agenda” and a current review on employment services for disabled people, which is yet to report.
When asked if it directly informed the content of the welfare reform green paper, he adds: “It’s more about informing our thinking.”
However, the way the report has been treated to date suggests that the status of people with learning difficulties as “ignored and marginalised” in terms of employment opportunities is very far from being reversed.
People with learning difficulties and employment