Hot on the heels of our trip to Brighton for the Labour party fringe, this week saw United Response’s policy and campaigns team head to Manchester for the Conservative party conference.

It was, of course, the first conference of a Conservative Party in Government for almost 20 years, and we were keen to start a dialogue to help influence policy for disabled people – and particularly policy that helps support people with learning disabilities or autism into work.

We very much welcome the Government’s manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which sees only 46% of disabled people in work compared with 76% of the UK population as a whole, but there is an additional and even wider gap when it comes to people with a learning disability or autism. Only 6.8% of people with learning disabilities and 15% of people with autism are in paid employment – and those figures have barely changed for 20 years.

Our fringe event

So, our fringe event on Tuesday night once again focused on our work in supporting people into employment and what needs to change to increase their representation in the workplace. And, despite it being a packed night on the Conference agenda, we were delighted to see an excellent turnout from delegates – it was standing room only!

Chloe Smith MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Employment, kicked off the event and we were then very pleased to welcome new MP for Twickenham, Dr Tania Mathias, who recently met up with some of the people we support and talked to them about their jobs and career aspirations. Dr Mathias spoke eloquently about the need for reasonable adjustments for people with a learning disability and the huge benefit that can be reaped from simple steps such as different methods of application or offering a work trial instead of a formal interview.

We also heard from Kay Allen OBE and SOS Homecare's Richard Jackson who gave their perspective as employers. Kay felt that the key was making it easy for people to employ someone with a learning disability – by “de-risking” it. Richard shared his experience of recruiting Jermaine via United Response’s Trafford Supported Employment service and the huge benefits that his whole team has reaped as a result.

But the star of the show was undoubtedly Aishah Jackson, whom we supported into a job at the Lowry Vue Cinema in Manchester – a job she has held for over six years. She shared her experiences and responsibilities, and the benefits she gets from working.

It makes me feel happy and confident,” she said. “It makes me feel the same as others as I have a job, too. My mum and dad work too so I am earning money just like them.”

The key points of our campaign

Party conference season may be over, but our campaign is just beginning. We’ll be continuing to press for the changes that we think are the most important, and will make the biggest difference to people with learning disabilities and autism who want to work and can work. These include:

  • More capacity and support on specialist programmes such as Work Choice. At a time when DWP is reviewing current provision, we believe it is vital that the success of Work Choice is built on and expanded.

  • Proper support to enable people with more complex needs to move towards work. We believe that a specialist programme for people with very complex needs is needed, including intermediate outcomes that measure, value and reward distance travelled and skills learned, as well as job starts and sustainability – and which also recognises the benefits of working for just a few hours a week.

  • Raising the aspirations of young people with learning disabilities, particularly those between the ages of 14 and 25, with a 'presumption of employability'. This means ensuring targeted supported is available to young people at a local level, close to home, and as soon as they are ready to move on from school or college.

  • Last but not least, support to employers to gain a greater understanding of learning disability and the support that an employee with learning disabilities may need. Thankfully, there is a growing awareness of 'reasonable adjustments' that can be made for a wheelchair user or someone with a sensory impairment in the workplace, but there is little awareness of simple steps that could support an applicant with a learning disability or mental health need.

The British Government has one of the best records in the world of keeping its manifesto commitments, and we look forward to working with this Government to make work a reality for people with learning disabilities and autism, so they get the life chances they need and deserve.

Experience all the action

We've been live-tweeting @unitedresponse throughout the party conference season using the hashtag #makeworkareality, and you can catch up on all the highlights of both our Labour and Conservative fringe events via Storify.

Diane Lightfoot, director of policy and communications.