The national disability charity, United Response, will be using the opportunity of party conferences to raise awareness of the low levels of people with learning disabilities and/or autism currently in employment, along with the need to make pre-employment support available for those with more complex needs.

United Response will be hosting fringe events at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences (Tuesday 29th September and Tuesday 6th October), at which they will highlight the fact that, despite many people with learning disabilities and/or autism wanting to work and being able to work, only 7% of people with learning disabilities and 15% of people with autism are currently in employment, compared with 46% of people with disabilities generally and 76% of the population as a whole.

Diane Lightfoot, Director of Policy and Communications, will take the opportunity to outline how United Response successfully supports people with a range of disabilities to take steps towards finding work, including people with profound and complex needs. Our dedicated employment services based in Trafford, Knowsley, York and Cornwall have an excellent track record in supporting people into work through the current DWP and locally funded programmes.

A survey carried out amongst United Response’s supported living and outreach services showed that 29% of people currently supported by the charity are engaged in some form of work-related activity; however, a further 23% say they want to work.

David Allkins and Aishah Jackson, who both experienced difficulties in finding work, but who are now in employment with help from United Response, will also be on the panels speaking at the fringe events. They will discuss what they feel needs to be done to make employment more of a realistic option, especially for young people with learning disabilities.

When David Allkins, who has Asperger’s syndrome, left University with a BA Hons in Combined Studies, he never thought that finding work would be difficult.

“Several things have held me back from gaining long-term employment since leaving full-time education: limited work experience, long periods of unemployment, not being good at formal interviews and even putting details of my disability on application forms.”

David explains:

“The gradual drip feed of failure does erode your confidence and sense of self. I was lucky enough to start working with United Response in their Truro office as an Administrative Consultant following a one-day trial interview. Having this job helped my sense of identity, stability and security, and my confidence has grown. My new-found confidence allowed me to successfully interview - with the help of my Job Coach - for the position of Political Correspondent to help promote United Response’s Every Vote Counts campaign. I was obviously successful and now I am attending party conferences as a News Correspondent and a valued member of the United Response workforce.”

Members of both Labour and Conservative parties will also be joining the panels, including Kate Green MP and Tania Mathias MP, as well as employer Richard Jackson from SOS Homecare and Kay Allen OBE, an entrepreneur and long-term advocate for people with learning disabilities in the workplace.

United Response will be specifically using the fringe events to highlight what needs to change so that people with learning disabilities and autism can move towards becoming valued members of the workforce:

  1. Targeted employment support programmes that also include people with complex needs. At a time when the government is reviewing current provision for specialist programmes, such as Work Choice, we believe it is vital to expand capacity to enable people to self-refer and to divert existing Work Programme participants with a disability to Work Choice. We want pre-work support programmes to be measured and as valued as the 16 hours-plus hours of work required to be classed as working. This would allow people with complex disabilities to step onto the road to employment.

  2. Raising aspirations amongst young people and their families. The 'presumption of employability' is at the heart of the support we provide within United Response, as our recent survey results show. Targeting young people with learning disabilities (particularly between ages 14–25), we want support available at a local level, close to home, and as soon as they are ready to move on from school or college. United Response has developed innovative new models of support that aim to mirror the experience that young people without a disability have access to.

  3. Promoting reasonable adjustments around 'unseen disability' to employers. There is a growing awareness amongst employers about making 'reasonable adjustments' for wheelchair users or those with a sensory impairment. There is a lack of understanding about how employers can make 'reasonable adjustments' for an applicant with a learning disability or mental health need. Creating accessible application forms and job descriptions could make a huge difference. Along with alternative interview processes, such as work trials, employers could increase the number of people with learning disabilities who are able to access the employment market. 

Whilst at conference, David Allkins will be working in his role as United Response News Correspondent, preparing his report so it is ready to file as a blog and video report on his dedicated YouTube Playlist. 

Take a look at David's YouTube playlist

During the party conferences, keep up to date with what United Response is saying via our Twitter feed @unitedresponse and/or searching for #makeworkareality.

Follow United Response on Twitter