This post is an update of a post I did nearly a year ago focusing on the paid employment of people with learning disabilities, mainly using social care statistics for 2015/16 that have been recently released.
This relatively short post focuses on paid employment. Although the way these statistics are collected changed in 2014/15, comparisons over time are relatively straightforward. And it’s important to realise that these statistics are only for ‘working age’ (age 18-64 years) adults with learning disabilities who up to 2013/14 were ‘known’ to councils, and from 2014/15 onwards were getting ‘long term support’ from councils (discussed here).
So, the first graph we have below is the percentage of working age adults with learning disabilities in any form of paid employment (no matter how part-time). The percentage is shockingly low, dropping consistently from 2011/12 to 2015/16, and standing at 5.8% in 2015/16. There is also a steady gap in paid employment between men and women with learning disabilities.
This paid employment rate of 5.8% compares to a paid employment rate of 74.5% of the working age population of the UK as a whole in May-July 2016 (79.4% for men, 69.6% for women).
The graph below shows the number of adults with learning disabilities in paid employment from 2008/09 (where the statistics were more dodgy than usual), broken down into those working less than 16 hours per week versus those working 16 hours or more per week. Of those adults with learning disabilities in paid employment, 70% were working for less than 16 hours per week (and 30% were working for 30 or more hours per week), as the graph below shows. This compares to the general population of the UK, where from May-July 2016 8.1% of adults in paid employment were working less than 15 hours per week and 91.9% were working 16 or more hours per week.
And what of those working age adults with learning disabilities getting long-term social services support who are not in paid employment? This information has started to be collected from 2014/15, and is in the graph below.
According to councils, alongside the 5.8% of working age adults with learning disabilities in employment, a further 10.4% of people are not in paid employment but seeking work. Almost half of working age adults with learning disabilities (46.1%) are not in paid employment and are not actively seeking work. And for over a third of people (37.7%), councils report that they do not know what the employment status of the person is.
What does this add up to?
First, the gap in employment rates between adults with learning disabilities and adults generally is absolutely vast, and any policy designed to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people needs to specifically address the issue of paid employment amongst people with learning disabilities.
Second, adults with learning disabilities are not sharing in any general improvements in the jobs market – in fact, paid employment is continuing to get worse rather than better for people with learning disabilities. Where are access to work, supported employment, further education, public health initiatives with employers, and public sector organisations as employers? Are they in fact getting in the way rather than supporting people into decent paid work?
Third, do the figures on the number of people not in paid employment map on to significant differences in benefits and sanctions regimes between people ‘seeking work’ (13,375 people) and people ‘not actively seeking work’ (59,010 people)? And the number of people with learning disabilities reported in these statistics are a drop in the ocean compared to the ‘hidden majority’ of adults with learning disabilities were are presumably also subject to these benefits and sanctions regimes?
Fourth, the huge number of adults getting long-term support from councils where councils don’t know their employment status is an indicator of councils’ priorities when it comes to employment, and of the shoddiness of their methods for collecting this information. I’ve heard a few fairly hair-raising stories about individual councils which I won’t share here, but let’s just say it doesn’t inspire confidence.
Finally, this is one of those things that I really can’t understand. Many more people with learning disabilities want to have decent paid jobs than are in paid work at the moment, and we keep being told that there are all sorts of jobs out there. We know that a decent, fulfilling paid job can have really positive impacts on people’s lives in all sorts of ways. We know that people with learning disabilities can be effectively supported into stable jobs. So why aren’t councils (with the DWP) jumping to provide cost-effective support to help people into stable employment, rather than re-institutionalising people at greater cost? Why doesn’t education help teenagers with learning disabilities to creatively explore the range of possibilities to suit their strengths and enthusiasms, including entrepreneurial possibilities? Why are people with learning disabilities being caught in this punitive web of contradictory (no) expectations?
Isn’t this the fabled territory of the win-win? Councils may deserve our sympathy for the scale of the cuts they’re having to preside over, but boy they don’t half make it difficult sometimes.