Frontlines

    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
    else.

    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
    before then.

    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.

     

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