NHS figures show that in 2015/16, 6% of people with learning disabilities were employed, a figure largely unchanged from the previous year.
This compares horrendously with the UK unemployment rate which currently stands at 4.5%.
The figure has been extensively and perhaps understandably bandied about in the media, generally in articles criticising progress in the government’s manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap.
But the data is really rather more interesting than this headline alone suggests. Because returns are made by local authorities, it is possible to examine learning disability employment at local authority level.
This is really helpful as you can easily identify the areas where good progress is being made – and of course what might be possible nationally if everyone was able to make similar progress.
So congratulations Hounslow and Bexley, the two local authorities with an employment rate for people with learning disabilities of 20% or more.
I’m sure Nottingham, Birmingham, Hull, Lambeth, Walsall, Manchester, Wolverhampton, South Tyneside, Warrington, Blackburn and Sandwell (all 1% or less) could learn a lot from you.
Congratulations also to North East Lincolnshire, which has seen an increase of 12% in the learning disability employment rate over the past 12 months.
Your achievements are in stark contrast to Luton, Kent and Doncaster whose rates have each fallen by 6%.
Of course local factors and economic circumstances are relevant and you might expect employment in the south east to be easier than in the north.
But a 6% reduction in Kent at the same time as a 12% increase in North East Lincolnshire suggests there’s more to it than just local economics.
Employing people with a learning disability may be important, but let’s not pretend it isn’t hard.
I recently listened to a Dimensions staff member describing the challenges she had faced in finding the right people, and offering them the right support, to deliver reception services at our Head Office.
The talk was in parts joyous and brought tears to my eyes – but is was also excruciating to hear how we hadn’t done enough to support her, as a manager, to recruit and train and support a small team of people with learning disabilities.
So whilst I was really embarrassed I was also immensely heartened by her success. After all if she could do it without support, what could be possible with it?
Knowing how not to do something can be as valuable as knowing how to do it (sometimes.)
Her success was down to her never-say-die attitude and her determination to make it work for her new team members and for the organisation.
Listening to her was a timely reminder for us all to walk the talk when it comes to supported employment.
In addition to our reception team, Dimensions now employs a film maker with learning disabilities, campaign advisers and spokespeople.
And most critically, nearly 50 experts by experience who quality check our services, interview for new staff and run induction training up and down the country.
Seeing how they are changing the organisation for the better helps me think we’re now getting it right more often than still getting it wrong.
If I had to pinpoint one thing that I think makes Dimensions genuinely different, something that embeds in our DNA our commitment to our vision of ‘an inclusive society where people have equal chances to live the life they choose’, it is examples such as this team.
I believe that employing people with learning disabilities in such a diverse range of roles across the organisation is what every organisation – not every provider – every employer in the UK can do and should commit to achieving.
So if you’re running a company in the UK today and not employing people with learning disabilities and autism, get your act together.
You’re missing out on employing people who are hard workers and great colleagues; employees who will make a positive difference to your company.