Large companies should be doing more to provide job opportunities for people with learning difficulties, according to a disabled campaigner.
Mark Brookes, a senior policy worker with the learning difficulties charity Values Into Action, spoke out after new government figures showed that only 7.5 per cent of adults with learning difficulties are in paid work.
The provisional statistics, released by the NHS Information Centre, relate to adults with learning difficulties in touch with social services departments, and are much lower than previous estimates.
But Brookes said he wasn’t surprised at the figures. He said he believed smaller firms were “doing their best” but it was the large companies that should be doing more to find jobs for people with learning difficulties.
He said: “I think it is awareness: making contact with them and making them aware that people with learning difficulties do want to work and can work.”
When launching its Valuing Employment Now (VEN) jobs strategy in June, the government said about ten per cent of people with learning difficulties in touch with social services had paid jobs.
The government has yet to set a target for improving this figure, but aims to “increase radically” the number of people with “moderate and severe” learning difficulties in work by 2025.
A Department of Health (DH) spokeswoman said the new figure of 7.5 per cent was only provisional, with final data due in January 2010.
She said it was calculated in a different way to the 10 per cent figure quoted at the VEN launch and “not directly comparable”.
VEN targets would be set next year, she added.
Brookes said VEN was “a start” but there was “still a long way to go”.
He added: “Most people work part-time because they are scared they will lose their benefits.
“It would help if the benefits system could change so people could work longer hours and still have their benefits.”
He was also critical of JobCentre Plus learning difficulties teams. He said: “They are under-staffed, under-trained and some of them don’t know what they are doing.”
The new figures also show that the West Midlands area is performing particularly badly, with just 2.9 per cent of people with learning difficulties in paid work, compared with 14.2 per cent in outer London.
The DH spokeswoman said: “High unemployment for people with learning disabilities in any area is unacceptable and increasing employment across the UK is a cross-government priority.”
18 August 2009