Luke is a young man who likes playing football, wants to go on holiday and enjoys going out with his friends. He has a job working part-time in Wetherspoons and goes to college three days a week. So far, so ordinary. And yet Luke is not ordinary. Why? Because Luke has a disability.

Learning Disability Work week is a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Luke and many others like him. But of course we shouldn’t really need Learning Disability Work week and Luke certainly shouldn’t be in such a tiny minority.

Employment benefits

We all grumble at some point about our jobs, but there can be no doubting the power of work to transform lives. Yes it is about having money to take home, but it is much more than that, it is about feeling good about yourself, keeping healthy, having friends and a social life.

Some 7.7 million people of working age (or 19%) have a disability or long-term health condition. The overall employment rate of disabled people has been improving gradually over the last five or so years, but there is still a big difference, 81.5% of non-disabled people are in paid employment compared to 52.6% of disabled people.

Just looking at these headline rates is very deceptive though, because there are certain groups of people who suffer much greater employment disadvantage, in particular people like Luke. There’s been no corresponding improvement in the employment rate of people with learning disabilities: just six in every 100 people with learning disabilities is in paid employment. Six per cent is a shocking figure, how can we defend this in 2019?

Providing the opportunity

Luke has had to overcome many more barriers than most of us in getting his job. He hasn’t got the academic qualifications that others have, but he has now gained certificates in ‘Employability Skills’ and ‘Food Hygiene’. He had to stay at College a bit longer than he might have liked, while he completed his internship at a local cookery school.

He had to spend quite a bit of time being shadowed by his support worker while gaining the confidence and the skills to use public transport on his own. He needed more time to prepare for working life with some extended work experience in a local community centre.

He had to work out how to overcome practical difficulties that his disabilities pose in the work place with a job coach alongside him during his first few months at work. But he did successfully do all of this and more. We should be ensuring that others have the same opportunity.

The rewards of employment

The value of work for Luke has of course, in part, been about getting paid but actually it’s more, much more than that. It’s about having the confidence to become the young man that travels independently, who has moved into a flat of his own and is making plans to travel the world. In fact it’s about being an ordinary young man.