Current political and economic concerns have dominated the headlines over the past few weeks. Britain is leaving the EU, we have a new Prime Minister, a new Cabinet dealing with Brexit; and the Shadow Cabinet remains unfilled until the autumn, if not beyond.

However, Parliament will continue to work and United Response is determined to continue to ensure that issues relevant to improving the lives and opportunities of people we support remain on our politicians’ agenda.

Presenting evidence to the Department of Work and Pensions

As part of our policy and campaigning work, we sent a written submission to an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the last Government’s manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

This week, our Director of Policy and Communications, Diane Lightfoot, was invited to Parliament to answer questions from the Work and Pensions Select Committee on this issue.

Diane informed the Committee about the wider learning disability gap; the fact that while only 47% of disabled people are in employment compared to 80% of the general population, only 6.8% of people with a learning disability are in paid work.

Speaking to the committee, Diane said, “We find that most people in this group want to work, and they can work, but what works for them is targeted specialist support.”

The Committee heard how United Response finds that the people we support often struggle with staff from the Jobcentre (JCP) not knowing enough about learning disability and the specialised options available for these jobseekers.

Diane called for Access to Work to be easier to set up, so that people we support can have funding for reasonable adjustments and job coaches ‘agreed in principle’ before they receive a job offer. This way, potential employers would not see the delay of setting up work place adjustments as a possible barrier to employing someone with a disability.

Our Director also informed the Committee that provision of specialised targeted employment support must be forthcoming to reduce the disability employment gap.

Implementing recommendations for employment

The past few days have actually seen the issue of people with learning disabilities in employment receive its fair share of recognition, despite rapidly moving current events and momentous changes at the top.

Last week, Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson raised the additional and steep learning disability gap in a Westminster Hall debate.

This week Mr Tomlinson and now former Skills Minister, Nick Bowles, agreed to implement all 14 recommendations from a taskforce commissioned to explore how access to apprenticeships can be improved for people with learning disabilities.

United Response contributed a submission to this taskforce led by Paul Maynard MP.

We welcome the fact that the Government will better “sell the support available” for apprentices with learning disabilities. In particular, we are pleased that Government will adjust the minimum standards and methods of assessment for English and maths for apprentices with these disabilities.

It is only right that barriers to apprenticeships are removed for people we support who are willing and capable of achieving success in many career paths, but lack a higher level of academic qualifications.

Our response to new political leaders

United Response knows that many of the people we support can work, and want to work, but that they need the right support, proper funding and the opportunity to get a job.

Our supported Employment Services, and the support we give to individuals in communities throughout our organisation, provide the best possible help to move people towards existing routes towards the work place.

But Government must do its part to put in place targeted and specialised disability employment programmes and other solutions to help change the woeful number of disabled people in work.

Although Theresa May has taken over as Prime Minister, bringing in a new Cabinet, United Response hopes that the new Government will honour the last Government’s key manifesto commitment. The promise to halve the disability employment gap, was an issue on which all of the new Government’s members stood for election, thus earning their current mandate.

Damian Green is the newly appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and United Response expects that the issue of helping more disabled people get into work will therefore be a key priority for him, as it was for his two predecessors.

We are still waiting for a Government Green Paper on Disability Employment to provide these solutions, and we hope the new Secretary of State will move forward with this agenda as soon as possible.

Employment is a vital issue for people we support. Enabling more disabled people to move into work improves health, builds independence and means that disabled people can contribute to the UK economy. All of these benefits would also help the UK, and should form part of the solution as it deals with the economic uncertainty ahead.