Having a job is about more than earning money. Having a job helps people to feel more independent, valued and can give them goals and aspirations.
Recent research shows that only 6% of people with a learning disability and 15% of people with autism, are in paid employment, yet most want to work [Mencap]. What paid employment there is, is often part-time and low paid.
Barriers to employment
People with a learning disability and people with autism looking for work come up against many barriers. Many employers have concerns about employing someone with a learning disability or autism and some employees express concerns about working with someone with a learning disability or autism.
Supporting a person with a learning disability or autism into employment is very different to supporting someone with another disability. The application forms are often not accessible to people with a learning disability or autism. People with a learning disability or autism may need specific support such as noise-cancelling earphones, communication aids or more structured working environments. These are frequently low cost. This specialist, personalised support is something that needs to be considered in the funding that is offered.
Access to transport can be a major issue for people with a learning disability or autism when it comes to finding paid employment. People can find it difficult to afford attending work experience, training or volunteering because of the high costs associated with transport.
A further barrier is digital exclusion. Many people with a learning disability or autism do not have access to a computer and may have to pay to travel to use one.
People with a learning disability and people with autism should be positively supported into employment and have equal access to learning and development opportunities.
Recent improvements made to the Access to Work scheme will help, by ensuring that people with a learning disability and autism will have access to a specialist team, as well as a commitment to raise awareness of the scheme.
However, with only 6% of people with a learning disability and 15% of people with autism in paid employment, more clearly needs to be done to tackle the existing barriers to work. To make things better:
Making things better
Support providers must
Work towards including a discussion about employment, training or volunteering opportunities in every individual’s person-centred support plan.
Local authorities must
Invest in high quality supported employment models.
Pay people with a learning disability and people with autism, the national minimum wage, at least, for the work they do.
Help their employees recognise the value of employing people with a learning disability and people with autism, through awareness training and an inclusive culture.
Proactively investigate the positive benefits that employing people with learning disabilities and autism can bring.
Look at how they can make the application process accessible for everyone and consider flexible options for working, including job-sharing and job-carving.
Improve the Access to Work programme:
- Access to Work and the associated funding should be available to people before they are in paid employment to help them find work, in particular if they are required to undertake unpaid work-related training.
- The application process for Access to Work must be simplified and staff in jobcentres should be trained in how to support people with a learning disability or autism to apply.
- Jobcentre staff need adequate training and job coaches with training, experience and skills in learning disability must work closely with individuals to ensure the right support is received.
Tackle deep rooted issues with Employment and Support Allowance:
- Individuals placed into the Employment and Support Allowance – Working Related Activity Group should continue to receive the extra financial support, and not have it removed, which would mean the amount they receive would be the same as Jobseekers Allowance.
- The Work Capability Assessment, and the agencies that provide it, need to be improved to ensure the specific needs of people with a learning disability and people with autism are understood.
Change the rules so that concessionary travel passes are valid at all times, not just off peak. This will remove one of the many barriers people with a learning disability and autism have when seeking and finding employment.
What we’re doing about it
Through our dedicated supported employment service, which follows the British Association of Supported Employment’s best practice approach, we support other individuals into employment who do not necessarily meet traditional criteria for ‘job readiness’ or ‘employability’.
Over the last three years, we have supported 52 people into paid employment through our supported employment team, which helps people find and secure employment. We use person-centred tools to do this. We get to know the individual looking for work, their likes and dislikes, aspirations and potential and the relationships they have. We talk to businesses and employers about their needs and use this information to make matches that ensure the best possible chance of employment being successful.
Our supported employment team provides training, workshops and meaningful volunteer placements to help people prepare for employment. We also work with employers and businesses to ensure they are ready to work with someone with a learning disability or autism. By working with people to understand what is expected of them, we are able to maintain employment.
Dimensions encourages the people we support to find meaningful work opportunities and, every year, employs more people with learning disabilities and autism. There are a number of people with a learning disability who work as receptionists in local offices across the organisation. We employ experts by experience who all have a learning disability. As key members of the Quality and Compliance, team they monitor and support our services.
We also employ a number of people with learning disabilities and autism to sit on interview panels for recruiting senior positions, share their stories and motivate new members of staff at our induction training and audit our services.
We use an approach called person-centred planning, which puts the people supported by Dimensions at the heart of their support. We use a variety of methods to make sure people can exercise choice and control in their lives, including individual support plans and person-centred reviews. We want every support plan to include a discussion about employment, volunteering or training and we are working towards achieving this for each person we support.