Disability charity, United Response, hosted a working lunch event on Friday 16th June to celebrate the positive work that is being carried out in Greater Manchester to help unlock the employment potential of the 65,000 people with learning disabilities living in the area.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham attended the event to show his support and said:

“I am here today at United Response’s supported employment working lunch because I want Greater Manchester to become a beacon of inclusion and diversity for the whole country. We have a real opportunity to collapse the silos within public services.

“We want to build support around the whole person and provide services for individuals to remove the many barriers keeping people with a learning disability out of the work place, one barrier at a time. I am confident that organisations like United Response can help Greater Manchester make meaningful change to society starting from the bottom up, not the top down.”

James Scales, Kate Green MP, Tim Cooper and Andy Burnham giving speechesFrom L-R: James Scales, Kate Green MP, Tim Cooper & Andy Burnham

Many adults with learning disabilities want a job, yet nationally less than 6 per cent are in paid work. In Greater Manchester, employment rates for adults with learning disabilities vary considerably across the 10 GM authorities, with far more securing paid work in some areas than others.

The working lunch was held in Trafford, one of the authorities which has had the greatest success in helping adults with learning disabilities to find paid work and where United Response’s Greater Manchester Supported Employment Service has been operating for the last 14 years.

Kate Green MP, who also spoke at the event, said:

“I was delighted to be a part of this event. I know from my own experience that people with a learning disability have lots to offer in the workplace, but the rate of employment among those with a learning disability remains pitifully low. There is so much to do to give employers the confidence to understand the benefits of employing someone with a learning disability and to share information about the support available.”

Tim Cooper, CEO of United Response, then outlined the charity’s vision for transforming social care and opening up the world of work for people with learning disabilities.

Tim said:

“We need to be ambitious for people with a learning disability by starting with a presumption of their employability and then actively advertising the success of specialist supported employment services. This event has brought together the decision-makers from across Greater Manchester to address what practical actions will finally start to close the employment gap.”

Two short films were shown, telling the stories of Stacey Lawley and Peter Morris Hind, who were both successful in finding paid work with the support of United Response.

Peter, an Apprentice Software Engineer/Developer for the BBC, said:

“People with learning difficulties really struggle to get into work because there are certain preconceptions people have about certain conditions. People often aren’t aware of certain conditions beyond stereotypes.”

James Scales, Head of Education at the national think tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), discussed the findings and recommendations from the CSJ’s recent report ‘Rethinking Disability at Work’ and the Government’s expected upcoming White Paper.

James said:

“The low employment rate of disabled people is one of the most striking injustices of our generation. We need sensible solutions and the resolve to push them through. Our report, Rethinking Disability at Work, provides ways of meeting all these challenges, and more, offering a clear blueprint for a more inclusive, productive and robust labour force.”

Following the speakers, there was a panel discussion with the CEOs of The Work Company, Pluss, Shaw Trust, Remploy and a representative from the Department for Work and Pensions, where further insights into employment for people with learning disabilities were shared.

The event presented a positive message, demonstrating how Greater Manchester, as a devolved authority, can lead the way in increasing the number of people with a learning disability in paid work, by working with specialist supported employment organisations in the field.