Opinions

Now is the time to close the employment rate gap for people with learning disabilities

Written by: Louise Coupland, Employability Development Officer, the ALLIANCE

New research commissioned by SCLD has mapped the employability landscape for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.

I recently attended the launch of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD)’s new report ‘Mapping the employability landscape for people with learning disabilities in Scotland’. One of a part of a series commissioned by the organisation on behalf of the Scottish Government, the report offers a stark reminder of the barriers which people with learning disabilities face in accessing real and sustainable employment opportunities.

The employment rate for adults with a learning disability is estimated to be in the range of seven per cent to 25 per cent, which is well below the disability rate of 42 per cent and the overall employment rate of 73 per cent, with two thirds of those in employment working less than 16 hours per week.

There is a real need for a positive, collaborative cross sector approach towards supporting people with learning disabilities to achieve and sustain employment, which has to be endorsed by health and social care professionals, education providers, families, employment support providers and employers.

The findings of the scoping exercise are timely, coming not only at a period where employment support services are under redesign and development, but also during the early stages of the integration of health and social care services across the country.

All too often employability is viewed by those working in the health and social care sector as an ambiguous term, which can too easily be disregarded as the responsibility of others. This lack of obligation and ownership of employability services could continue to prevent the identified 125,000-150,000 people with a learning disability who are currently unemployed in Scotland to access employment opportunities, which we know are integral to the ability to exercise choice and control, live more independently and participate as active citizens.

The report identifies inconsistencies in provision across Scotland, particularly in relation to supported employment. Attempts to rectify this inconsistency will rely on the commitment made to employment by each health and social care integration board, dependent on the extent in which practitioners consider employment as a real aspiration.  For me, this is the wrong way around.  As the report notes, ‘the starting point should be to view employment as a very real aspiration for all with support then in place to overcome the personal issues that they face in securing, sustaining and progressing in employment.’

Employers themselves can act as a gatekeeper to employment opportunities, and the report proposes all employers’ review their recruitment process and learn from good practice so that people with learning disabilities are not disadvantaged at the first stage. The ALLIANCE’s, My Skills, My Strengths, My Work campaign also acknowledges that employers are interested in recruiting people with a long term condition but require advice, guidance and ongoing support to do so.

Lastly, a key issue which hinders the mapping of services and employability funders is the lack of an agreed definition of ‘learning disabilities’. The report highlights that the current diversity in how this is defined makes it problematic to gather data and make an unanimous and coherent case to funders, organisations and employers to support people with a learning disability, as well as our ability to ensure the correct support and advice is available to assist this support when it is not clear which clients are included and which are not.

The report offers much needed insight in to the current scale and effectiveness of employability support for people with learning disabilities in Scotland. It also sets out some clear and sensible long term recommendations for an array of key stakeholders as well as highlighting the crucial roles others (including carers, parents, schools and colleges) have to play in achieving success. Equally the appendix one and two are well worth a read, sharing case studies of both people and employers – offering some real insight into the crucial impact that employment can have on people’s lives.

Read SCLD’s report – ‘Mapping the employability landscape for people with learning disabilities in Scotland’

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