Only 1 in 10 people with a learning disability are in employment. They are more excluded from the workplace than any other group of disabled people. Where they do work, it is often for low pay and for part-time hours.
Research shows that 65% of people with a learning disability want to work, and that they make highly valued employees when given the right support.
This page explains the key issues relating to employment and gives examples of good practice for professionals and employers interested in supporting people with a learning disability into work.
There are a number of barriers which make it difficult for people with a learning disability to access employment:
- Lack of appropriate training: Many people with a learning disability do not have access to quality further education and training. Only 1 in 3 adults with a learning disability take part in any education or training.
- Lack of appropriate support: People with a learning disability often need support to develop key skills for work and to find and get a job. They may need support in the workplace. Government disability employment programmes do not meet the needs of people with a learning disability.
- The welfare system: There are certain structural barriers within the benefits system which can make it very difficult for people with a learning disability to achieve their aspiration to work. For example, the amount of money that can be earned by recipients of welfare benefits without their benefits being affected is extremely low. This can mean that people are not necessarily any better off if they work. The consequence is that people with a learning disability can remain trapped in poverty, reliant on welfare benefits and unable to contribute to society.
- Employers attitudes: Many employers are reluctant to take on someone with a learning disability. This might be because they do not know enough about the benefits of employing people with a learning disability, or they do not know how to get the right support. Stigma and discrimination about people with a learning disability is still widespread.
- Discrimination: People with a learning disability often receive little or no pay for work they do on an ongoing basis. It is described as ‘work experience', and does not lead to real pay or a real job.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 made it unlawful for disabled people to be discriminated against by employers. This includes people in the application process as well as employees. The DDA says that ‘reasonable adjustments' must be made to ensure that disabled people are treated fairly. For example, this could include inviting a supporter to accompany someone with a learning disability to an interview, or limiting the number of tasks someone with a learning disability takes on in their first few months in post.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005 places a duty on public sector bodies to implement disability equality in their role as employers. The Disability Equality Duty (DED) requires employers to consider their employment policies and the duty to make adjustments in a more proactive way – so that discrimination may be eliminated prior to its arising.
The government is changing the welfare system to help more people move into work. It is likely that more people with a learning disability will be expected to find work. It is essential that people with a learning disability get the specialist support they need to move into work. You can read more about this on the Department of Work and Pensions website.
Valuing People, published by the Department of Health (2001), reported that only 1 in 10 people with a learning disability work. This shows that they are more excluded from the workplace than any other group of disabled people (50% of disabled people of working age are in employment).
Research carried out by Eric Emerson at the Institute for Health Research, Lancaster University (2005) shows that 65% of people with a learning disability want to work.
Research among employers has found people with a learning disability to be loyal, hard-working and highly-valued employees.
Our experience of employing people with learning disabilities has brought tremendous benefits. They have many valuable skills and abilities, as well as being very hard working and loyal employees
Richard Lowe, Equality & Diversity Manager, Sainsbury's Supermarkets Ltd
People with a learning disability have individual strengths, needs and aspirations. They should be supported to get and keep rewarding jobs that match their individual needs and preferences.
- Mencap Pathway is Mencap's employment service which provides help and advice for people with a learning disability who want to find work. It provides employers with candidates with a learning disability and supports those candidates through the recruitment process and beyond. Mencap Pathway works with both the individual and the employer to ensure success.
- 'You can work it out!' is a good practice guide to employing people with a learning disability.
- Valued in Public is a guide for public sector employers about employing people with a learning disability.
- Mencap's charter of employment rights outlines the rights to work of people with a learning disability.