How to create jobs for people with learning difficulties?

This appeared on page 48 of the magazine, under the title Ready to pick

Providing jobs for people with learning difficulties requires careful planning by employers, but most of all it requires determination and imagination, reports Derren Hayes

A recent report by the government’s working group on learning difficulties found that many of the UK’s 900,000 people with learning difficulties of working age want to work.

Why then are only one in 10 in employment, according to figures from local authorities? The working group’s report
lists no fewer than 17 barriers including transport problems, a lack of support and disincentives in the benefit system.

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap and a member of the working group, believes a lack of direction from the Department for Work and Pensions is partly to blame.

“The DWP doesn’t really want to own the issue as it sees it as a quasi social services problem,” he says.

Rob Greig, national director for learning difficulties, says there are several disincentives in the benefits system that need
to be overcome if work opportunities are to be increased.

“There are ways of resolving some of these problems but they will need creativity,” he adds. “I’ve been meeting with the DWP to encourage the development of a joint approach with the Department of Health, and I’m optimistic something will happen soon.”

Greig says responsibility also lies with employers. “There is anecdotal evidence to suggest the private sector – mainly larger national companies – are better at providing jobs than the public sector.”

He has recently been meeting the head of every council to push the idea they should be “model” employers of people with learning difficulties.

Julian Burnell, public relations chief at charity The Shaw Trust, says the low employment rates are partly down to lack of
awareness. “The average person doesn’t have experience of people with learning difficulties.” He argues that people with
learning difficulties in employment “experience an increase in self respect and independence, while people that come into
contact with them “learn they are not from Mars”.

The type of jobs available to people with learning difficulties is the next prejudice that needs tackling, according to Burnell.

Too often, employers provide low-skilled jobs “to feel good about themselves” when they should be thinking about the
skills they could bring to their workforce, he says.

“There are many jobs people with learning difficulties can do. It may be that some require a clear set of operational
parameters, while others can do more complex tasks. It’s about finding the right job for the right person and not taking
a one-size-fits-all approach.” Congdon agrees that with the right support people with learning difficulties can do many
jobs. “Clearly, some jobs are beyond all of us but the crucial thing is to match the skills to the job. Some people with less
severe learning difficulties can act as chaperones or advocates.

Someone may start off collecting trolleys in supermarkets or stacking shelves but with a support worker or a buddy they
can progress and do other jobs in the organisation.”

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