How many people with learning disabilities are in paid work?

In 2012, the Department of Health's Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework found that 7% of adults with learning disabilities were in some form of paid employment, the (probably vast) majority of which was part-time work.

Men were more likely to be working over 30 hours per week than women (1.3% vs. 0.4%), and employment rates amongst people with a learning disability varied considerably across Local Authorities, ranging from 0-36%.

It is, however, worth noting that there is some regional variation as to how statistics are generated, and who is counted. For a summary of this information, see the 2011 report on People with Learning Disabilities in England (PDF). It is estimated that 65% of people with learning disabilities would like a paid job.

About 10% of those known to services were thought to be in employment when the Labour Government published Valuing Employment Now in 2009. 

Although around 1 in 10 people in England are self-employed, people with learning disabilities are almost entirely absent from this figure.  Research has suggested that this pathway would be particularly beneficial to people with more complex needs as it allows for better flexibility and is usually based on the particular interests and skills of the self-employed person. 

Getting help

There is a wide range of help available, although this is considered better in some areas than in others.  The most common tool used to support people with a learning disability is called Supported Employment. Most areas in the UK have a Supported Employment agency working to support local people.

The British Association for Supported Employment has been successfully used for decades as a personalised model for supporting people with significant disabilities in securing and retaining paid employment. The model uses a partnership strategy to enable people with disabilities to achieve sustainable long-term employment, and to enable businesses to employ valuable workers.

Work often plays a pivotal role in defining an individual's quality of life and may be an integral part of a person's overall life experience. Supported Employment offers a process that makes employment an achievable goal for people with disabilities, just as it is for non-disabled people in our society.

The model has at its heart the belief that anyone can be employed if they want paid employment and sufficient support is provided. The defined steps are as follows:

  • Customer engagement
  • Vocational profiling
  • Employer engagement
  • Job matching
  • In-work support
  • Career development

Central to Supported Employment is Training in Systematic Instruction (TSI, also known as ‘Structured Training’, or ‘Try Another Way’). This approach is concerned with the identification and development of the individual skills relevant to the job at hand, rejecting the assumption that such skills may be ‘expected’ by the employer.

More recently, there has been a focus on working with young people as they prepare for adult life, with the goal of developing higher aspirations, expectations, and practical employment skills.

The transition element of the 2011 Government Green Paper (‘Support and Aspiration’) is called ‘Preparing for Adulthood’. This programme aims to provide knowledge and support to all local authorities and their partners, including families and young people, so that they can ensure young people with special educational needs and disabilities achieve paid work, independent living, good health and community inclusion as they move into adulthood. 

Project Search is an initiative which develops a partnership between a local host employer and a school or college to develop internships in the young person's last year of education.  This is resulting in significantly increased employment successes, with 80% of students who completed the 2007 initiative in the USA now in full-time employment.