The Commitment of Individuals made Learning Disability Week a Success

Rosemary Trustam rounds up the reports from around the country on Learning Disability Week (19-25 June) which had employment as its main theme.

With only 6% of people with learning disabilities in employment, Mencap’s Learning Disability Week work theme seemed a priority area.

But the charity’s activity showed no evidence of involving Job Centres. Whilst there are useful resources and some individual stories on their website they no longer give direct support to localities.

The government green paper (1), whilst offering some potential for young people leaving schools, offers few prospects for people with learning disabilities unless the promised SE pilot with the British Association of Supported Employment (BASE)  opens any doors (2).

The Government’s welfare benefits’ changes seem designed to encourage those needing more support and work preparation into the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) support group, as people joining the work activity group (WRAG) since April 2017 have been £30 per week worse off. Will people with learning disabilities in the WRAG benefit from their new job coach role? It feels doubtful when targets push advisers towards people more likely to get into work quickly.

Supported Employment (SE) is not a statutory service so many cash-strapped local authorities no longer fund it. Across the UK, employment activity seems to owe more to some individuals’ commitment than any government strategy.

Undaunted in Preston

Preston’s Learning Disability Forum (PLDF) led by people with learning disabilities was undaunted by a lack of resources, being full of enthusiasm and volunteering. Members continued their annual commitment to a full LD week programme of events, supported by Integrate’s Pat Afflick and REACT’s James Hughes. Their flag market launch was opened by Preston’s mayor, Councillor Brian Rollo, where stalls showed the work and support  of some local learning disability charities representing people and carers and passers-by were encouraged to join in with DanceSyndrome’s flag market workshops.

The highlight was Preston City Council’s employee ‘Jack’ who spoke about his pathway to employment, initially through college, but then an internship with the council where he experienced different departments, resulting in his current full-time job. Apart from social events, a health day and a training day on safe dating, the week had employment-themed activities. These included a drop-in breakfast at Disability Equality North West (DENW) on employment with benefits advice support; drop-ins at Integrate’s social enterprises offering opportunities in packing, shop work, gardening and wood recycling; and ended with a free showing of Ken Loach’s film I Daniel Blake.

From Harrow to Newcastle

Harrow Mencap held an inspiring Learning Disability week fashion show with people with learning disabilities as models and supported by local businesses; Friends Action held Works for All events across Newcastle and the Twisting Ducks Theatre Company and Newcastle City Learning in Partnership with the Skills Funding Agency created a host of films and resources for employers and people interested in employment  (see http://www.friendsaction.co.uk/news/works-all-learning-disability-week ).

Across England support for the week’s employment theme was often through postings on websites or through social media, which included NHS England’s ‘Message to employers’ https://vimeo.com/187842280, whilst areas like Kirklees and Leeds, led by Aspire, ran a more general programme of sports and fun events.

It takes a lot of effort, resource and connectivity to engage people in a position to change things, so perhaps the activities most likely to have had impact were reported  by a University of Wolverhampton student Laura Creswell. She spent the week with Dudley Voices for Change. Their full programme included a very wide engagement relevant to employment – job centres, job coaches, tutors, psychologists, nurses on Day 1’s employment event.

The benefits of employing people with learning disabilities were illustrated there by a lunch of delicious food provided by Lunch on the Run. Their week saw a full range of workshops aimed at showcasing both the context and the achievements and talents of people with learning disabilities .

For the full report see https://www.wlv.ac.uk/current-students/news/july-2017/student-experience-learning-disability-awareness-week-.php

Meanwhile in Scotland…

Scotland’s Learning Disabillity week earlier in May had its theme as ‘looking back, thinking forward’. The aim was to learn lessons from the past and consider how to work for a better future. This year is the Scottish Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology giving the opportunity to reflect on how the lives of Scottish people with learning disabilities have changed since Scotland’s first 2001 learning disability strategy.

References

(1) Work, health and disability: improving lives, Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health, 2016.

(2) Lives not services, Community Living, Vol. 30, No. 3.