20-30% of offenders have a learning disability and 60-90% of young offenders have poor communication skills.

The event was in aid of Raising Your Game, a five-year project led by Mencap in partnership with I CAN and Nacro. Government reviews and academic research have previously found that there is a widespread lack of awareness of the issues faced by people with a learning disability and communication difficulties in the Criminal Justice System, which could cause them to re-offend due to a lack of support.

The project outcomes have fallen into three key areas:

  • meaningful, consistent and inclusive relationships with young people are crucial in making a difference
  • training, awareness raising and resources gave professionals strategies to engage with young people
  • rather than look for diagnoses, recognise communication difficulties as a common thread of equitable access.

Raising Your Game had over 2,700 young people aged between 14-25 years with a learning disability and communication difficulties at the centre of its work.

The project engaged young people in innovative ways through taking part in positive activities which developed their confidence and skills.

This allowed them to take part in decision making for services which affected their lives and to participate more fully in society.

At the event the Minister, Robert Buckland MP, and Lord Ramsbotham were joined by young people who had taken part in the project and professionals from across justice, education and voluntary sectors.

Robert Buckland MP and Solicitor General said:

The purpose of the Criminal Justice System should be to rehabilitate people back into society and give them the best chance of succeeding in life. Sadly young people with a learning disability and communication difficulties are being let down by professionals in the Criminal Justice System who do not understand the complex needs some individuals have, causing many to re-offend due to a lack of support. Fortunately Raising Your Game has begun to address this issue and shown how sufficient training and awareness can dramatically improve the prospects of those with a learning disability or communication difficulty.

Mark Perks, Programme Director of Raising Your Game said:

The significant over-representation of people with a learning disability and communication difficulties in the Criminal Justice System cannot be ignored. Through no fault of their own young offenders with a learning disability or communication difficulty are not getting the support they badly need to manage their way through the complicated justice process, and are becoming lost in the system.

I’m delighted Raising Your Game has made policy makers aware of the small adjustments needed to ensure our justice system does not cause individuals to be trapped, however more needs to be done to roll these recommendations out more widely.

John, one of the young people involved in Raising Your Game said:

My life was very difficult. My mother and step-father were drug and alcohol abusers. Since 16 I have been sleeping rough, sofa surfing and doing stupid crime to get by. I was under probation but after this ended my entire support network was gone.

Luckily I got involved in Raising Your Game and I’m now getting the support I need and I feel a lot better in myself. Probation are helping me with a moving on plan. I’ve started sailing and volunteering with young people to teach them how to run a sailing boat. In the future I want to support young people as a paid job and have a safe and stable place to live.

Virginia Beardshaw, I CAN Chief Executive said:

Our Talk about Talk training sessions were delivered to employers and professionals in the justice system to ensure they understand communication difficulties and can change the way they interact with young people. Given that 60- 90% of young people involved in offending have poor communication we know that increased awareness of young people’s communication difficulties is desperately needed. The need extends further, with up to 75% of pupils in some secondary schools in areas of deprivation having poor communication skills – we have already started working with youth and employer organisations to ensure this effective programme is rolled out as widely as possible.

For young people themselves, being involved in Talk about Talkmade a statistically significant difference to their communication skills and they became confident in presenting and in speaking clearly.  Raising Your Game and Talk about Talk has not only helped to improve the prospects of young people with a learning disability and communication difficulties but has also meant that a wide number of organisations are now able to support them. We at I CAN will be continuing this work with many more organisations and young people in different parts of the country.

Christina Marriott, Head of Policy at Nacro, the crime reduction charity said:

Raising Your Game has allowed us to hear the voices of these young people tell us about their experiences of the criminal justice system. The work of the programme has helped young people grow in confidence and to speak out about the issues that matter to them the most.

Without the right support, young people with a learning disability or communication difficulties are at a higher risk of offending. Raising Your Game has highlighted the importance of those working in the Criminal Justice System having the right knowledge and skills to support young people and to help them to make positive choices for their futures.


For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the Mencap press office on 020 7696 5414 or media@mencap.org.uk.

Notes to editors

About Mencap

There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.

Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.

About I CAN

  • I CAN is the children communication charity.
  • We are experts in helping children and young people develop the speech, language and communication skills they need to thrive in a 21st century world
  • Children and young people can fail to reach their potential because communication difficulties are not visible, often mistaken for something else, or not noticed at all.

 I CAN’s mission is that no child should be left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding.

We do this through:

  • sharing our expertise and knowledge to increase awareness of communication difficulties and inform policy making
  • providing resources and information for parents, families and people who work with children
  • providing assessments for children so that their families know what support will meet their needs
  • giving teachers and professionals working with children the skills to help children who struggle through our evidence-based programmes.

At the very heart of I CAN are our two special schools which give expert care and education to children with problems so severe their needs cannot be met elsewhere.

About Nacro

At Nacro, the UK’s largest crime reduction charity, we are dedicated to reducing crime and reoffending in communities across England and Wales. We design and deliver programmes that equip people with the skills, advice, attitude and support they need to move their lives on and move away from crime.

We use our knowledge of what works to reduce crime to help inform policy and shape practice, and work closely with government and public and private sector partners using our experience on the ground to establish and pilot the best ways of reducing crime in local neighbourhoods.

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email help@mencap.org.uk.

What is a learning disability?

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.

People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.

Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.