The employment gap between those who have a learning disability and the wider population is up by almost a third in some parts of England, according to analysis of NHS data.
The overall employment gap reduced by 9% compared with last year, the analysis by MCG Healthcare found, but some areas of England had zero adults with a learning disability in paid employment.
The learning disability nurse recruiter looked at figures from the NHS’s latest Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework. Fewer than a quarter of English councils reported an improvement in the learning disability employment rate.
It found that, on average, only around one in 20 working-age adults with a learning disability are in paid employment in England. The employment rate in the UK overall is just under 76%, almost 15 times higher.
The areas that experienced the greatest decrease in paid employment for people with a learning disability were Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, Luton, Merton and Stoke on Trent. Employment fell by 100% for those with learning disabilities in Hammersmith and Fulham.
MCG Healthcare director Ash Higgs said that many individuals with a learning disability had been “left behind” when the rest of the job market recovered at the end of pandemic restrictions.
“For people with a learning disability, losing a job – or being unable to find one – can severely dent confidence and deprive individuals of chances to make personal progress. It’s about much more than money,” he said.
“Our nurses see, at first hand, just how fulfilled some people with a learning disability are by their jobs. We aim to offer people as much independence as possible, and work plays a huge part in that, giving people a sense of control and achievement.”
Matt Boyd, founder of Exceptional Individuals, a recruitment agency for neurodiverse candidates, argued that many were falling at the first hurdle due to barriers in the recruitment process.
“Shifting everything online over the past few years has made things especially difficult for our community, who live with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning differences and disabilities that show when processing information,” he said.
“The challenges have definitely become more prominent since the pandemic: there’s a lot more anxiety. People with neurodiversities and learning disabilities are more likely to have mental health problems anyway and the pandemic only added to that. Many are still dealing with the after-effects, which makes it that much harder to find work.”
Too many organisations make the assumption that those with learning disabilities or neurodiversity will be more comfortable working from home, added Sheryl Miller, a diversity and inclusion consultant and author.
“For some people with a learning disability, the increase in home working may be a disadvantage. It potentially leads to the individual having less in-person support and it may limit the ways in which the individual can be coached or instructed on a task,” she said.
“We all have learning preferences, but for someone with a learning disability, they may have less flexibility about how they can receive instructions and information and still effectively carry out a task.”
With additional training, managers can offer more support for these employees. MCG Healthcare also urged employers and local authorities to review their recruitment processes, home working practices and mental health support in a bid to reduce the employment gap.