Learning Disability Week has shone a spotlight on the need to help people with learning disabilities into employment. There are over one million people living with learning disabilities in the UK today (approximately 2% of the population) and yet Government figures show that less than 5.8% are in employment. Not only is this figure scandalously low, but it continues to fall.
When asked, most young people with learning disabilities would like to have a job, yet these ambitious young people with a lot to offer continue to be overlooked by and excluded from UK workplaces because of two key issues.
Firstly, there is a lack of support for schools to support young people with learning disabilities into employment. This means that often, nobody in school is asking what young people want to be when they grow up. It is a small surface symptom of an underlying cultural problem. We recently launched our 'When I Grow Up' project in parliament to tackle this problem head on and encourage more schools to start routinely thinking about employment as part of young people's future.
Secondly, most employers do not understand learning disabilities and are failing to see the huge contribution they can make to the workplace if just given a chance. We know that with the right support, people with learning disabilities make hardworking and enthusiastic employees, bringing new skills, talents and perspectives to their employers. 62% of people would rather work in a company that employs people with learning disabilities.
We all have a duty to push for change in our workplaces to redress this inequality. When we ask the children that we work with about their biggest personal goals, finding employment is their most common aspiration they tell us about.
As a nation, we need to get our head out of the sand and tackle the scandalously low numbers of people with learning disabilities included in UK workplaces.
We're calling on workplaces and schools to be a part of the cultural shift we need to see, and play a small part in tackling these employment inequalities. Workplaces should conduct an internal review to see how young people with learning disabilities can contribute to their workplace, and reach out to local schools to offer work experience programmes and employment positions when they leave school. Schools can download our free toolkit for schools, it is an excellent resource for teachers wanting to support young people with learning disabilities to start their journey to a first job. Schools can join the project by downloading the Facilitators Handbook for free here.