Real jobs for people with learning difficulties

Currently, almost 95 per cent of adults in the UK who are
seeking work find it. However, fewer than one in 10 people with
learning difficulties can do the same. A recognition of the
self-esteem, confidence and independence that having a job can
provide has resulted in the emergence of supported employment
schemes, originally developed in the US in the 1970s.

And while, nationally, the impact of supported employment is still
slight, it is significantly denting all scepticism in North
Lanarkshire, Scotland. “Our strategy was launched in 1999,” says
George McInally, manager, social work strategy. “We were looking at
alternatives to day centres. Our philosophy is based on real jobs
for real people paying real salaries.”

To date the scheme has got 50 people with learning difficulties
into employment, working on average 27 hours a week. Nearly all are
better off financially. “It’s difficult to get people into
employment because of the benefit trap,” says McInally. “But we
ensure that welfare rights advice is provided to the service user.”
The average income before employment was £106.41. It’s now
£167.15 – an increase of £60.74 a week.

“We don’t take any old job,” McInally continues. “It has got to
match the individual. The first person to get a job got one with
the social work department. They had been using day services for 21
years. Three years into her job, the transformation in her life is
incalculable. She’s part and parcel of the social fabric of the

Alisdair McLachlan works 16 hours a week at a Beefeater restaurant.
“I am a kitchen porter and I make sure everything is clean,” he
says. “I love my work so much. It’s the best job I’ve ever had in
my life. I’ve got a lot of friends at Beefeater. I like having more
independent skills. I like the responsibility.” Since he was 18
McLachlan attended a day centre. Has he ever gone back? “No,

Yvonne Hendry is one of 15 job coaches – who draw up a vocational
profile of users and match them to jobs and then help train and
support them in the workplace. McLachlan valued the input. “Yvonne
has meant a lot to me,” he says. “She was supporting me, making
sure I’m all right. She gave me a couple of tips and that – and
helped give me courage.”

Together with the person, job coaches hunt out jobs – from job
centres, newspapers, shop windows and from contacting and meeting
employers to explain the scheme. Remarkably, 70 per cent of jobs
are in the private sector. And they are real jobs. Ian Bryson,
chief executive of Advanced Windows, whose company employs two men
on the scheme, lays it on the line: “This is not a charity. The
bottom line here is we have to make the business pay.”

Once employed, the job coach remains with the person, gradually
pulling back as their confidence and ability to do the job grows.
This “place, train and maintain” approach clearly works well. “One
of the things I’m quite proud about is that we’ve lost very few
jobs,” says McInally. “There’s been something like a 95 per cent
sustainability. This is about ensuring the person is able to do the
work and providing ongoing support.”

People with learning difficulties have shown themselves to be
reliable, hard-working and effective employees. Claire Henderson, a
clerical assistant, is in her “dream job”. She says: “I have
learned a lot since I first started. I have gained a lot more
confidence. What can I say? I’m proud of myself.”

As one parent says of her son: “He came home one day and said that
Mary [a co-worker] was pregnant. I asked if he knew what that
meant. He said, ‘Aye, she’s going to have a baby’.” It’s all part
of the maturity that work brings. And would her son go back to the
day centre? “No, he’s left. He’s a working man now.”

– For more information contact George McInally on


SCHEME: Supported employment for people with learning

LOCATION: North Lanarkshire.

STAFFING: Operational manager, senior supported employment officer
and 15 job coaches.

INSPIRATION: Changing Lives

COST: About £400,000.

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