Employment rate falls for people with severe learning disabilities or mental health needs

Department of Health report on adult social care outcomes framework highlights issues with employment support for the two groups

Picture credit: Rex Features

The proportion of people with substantial learning disabilities or mental health needs who are in paid employment has fallen, official figures show.

Despite Britain’s unemployment rate falling sharply since the middle of last year, the percentage of people in touch with secondary mental health services who were in paid jobs fell from 8.8% in 2012-13 to 7.1% in 2013-14, according to figures from the adult social care outcomes framework published in a Department of Health report last week. The proportion of learning disabled people known to social who were in paid employment fell from 7% in 2012-13 to 6.8% in 2013-14.

Steve Beyer, deputy director of the Welsh centre for learning disabilities at Cardiff University, told Community Care that the data reflected a number of issues including a disinvestment by many local authorities in the supported employment programmes that can be an effective way of helping higher need groups into work.

“Research has shown that people with quite significant learning disabilities can hold down paid jobs but they learn in very practical ways so instead of trying to train someone with all the skills you think they need to do the job, the solution is more with supported employment – find a job that suits a person and have a job coach to support them,” he said.

“We’ve had supported employment in this country since about 1986. For many years social services were at the forefront of this and funding these services even though it was at the margin of their statutory responsibilities. In recent years we’ve had a huge recession and anything at the fringe of local authorities’ statutory duties has been cut back on. So we’ve seen a disinvestment in this area at a local level and not really seen a reinvestment by central government at the same time”.

Beyer said although there had not been a “meaningful investment” in the services in recent years, some local authorities still ran good supported employment schemes and there had been some positive work from the government’s work choice programme. He also pointed to issues with the data indicator used to measure progress, notably the fact that a person counted as being in ‘paid employment’ may have a job that only provides one or two hours’ a week of work.

On the mental health findings, Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, said: “The back to work support provided through schemes like the Work Programme is ineffective for people with mental health problems, with only five per cent finding work. There is too much focus on pressuring people into work and not enough personalised and tailored support to help those who are ready and able into roles which suit their skills.”

He added: “We also need organisations to recognise the value in recruiting people with mental health problems and making adjustments to help them stay in work. With the right support, people with mental health problems can and do make a valuable contribution in the workplace and this can be a positive step in their recovery”.

The DH report found that the proportion of mental health service users supported to live independently had seen a “small increase” from 58.5% in 2012-13 to 60.9% in 2013-14. The proportion of learning disability service users that lived in their own home or with family rose from 73.5% in 2012-13 to 74.8% in 2013-14. There was widespread variation between different local authorities on both of those indicators.

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