Friday, 3 March 2017

You want to work?

Have you got your bag?

I have.



Bus pass?

Got it!

And with that she says goodbye and leaves to walk up the hill, across the road, round the bend, up the next street, across the dual carriageway to the bus stop. She patiently waits and then boards the bus and takes the short journey to the next village, where she goes through the underpass and into the hair salon.

To work.

This could be any young woman. This is the way it should be when school is over, college is almost done and you’ve got a spare day in your week. Get a job. Earn some money. Find out what it’s like in the real world. Be independent.

But this isn’t anyone. This is someone with learning disabilities. Someone with Down’s syndrome. This is Emily. My daughter.

Emily loves to go to work. She loves the feeling of being an independent young woman, even if for only a short time of the week. It’s where she can learn new skills, gain confidence, interact with the general public. She knows that this is the way it should be. She feels motivated. She has purpose. She has a strong feeling of self-worth. She is valued. Appreciated. Part of the community.

She belongs.

Irrespective of our background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, colour, disability, however we might choose to divide ourselves, that’s what we all want really isn’t it? To be valued. To belong.

“To LIVE, to LOVE, to LEARN and to LEAVE a legacy” – according to Stephen R. Covey

Yet we know that for people with learning disabilities, the opportunities post formal education are very limited indeed. There are some marvellous facilities in small pockets of the country which provide opportunities for the learning disabled to access good quality training but there are even fewer opportunities to find a job with any acquired skills. We live in a country where profit is king so why would any employer want to employ someone who is slower than their contemporaries? Why would they take on someone who may well give them health and safety headaches, additional risk assessments, potentially increased insurance premiums?

If an employer were to buck the trend and actually employ someone with a learning disability, they know that the law enforces a minimum wage, which they are obliged to pay, regardless of whether they get value for money. Is this fair to the employer? Is it fair to the other staff on the same rate of pay? Won’t there be disagreements? Fall out? If the balance sheet is king, aren’t the learning disabled just another liability rather than an asset?

I’ll tackle what Emily’s employer and fellow staff members think about all of this in another post, for I fear there is insufficient room here to do this tale justice.

I have met a number of parents who are happy for their young person with LD to work for nothing because they believe that if they pushed for pay that may bring the placement to an end, which would be to the detriment of their family member. Better to be out of the house, part of the community and doing a job, even if without pay, than to be sat at home, on the iPad, watching endless re-runs of Homes Under the Hammer and still get paid nothing.

Isn’t it?

And there are others who would campaign for a change in the law to enable employers to pay below the minimum wage to people with LD. This surely would be an incentive to employers to give a chance to someone with a LD, knowing that they’re not “gambling” quite so much on the roll of the dice that is the world of learning disability.

Wouldn’t it?

Surely people with learning disabilities just want to work. They want that sense of purpose and job satisfaction. They want to be like their peers and get a wage packet at the end of the week. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little bit less in there than their co-workers.

Or does it?

I agree that something must be done to change the current position where 94% of adults with a learning disability are NOT in paid work (Health and Social Care Information Centre 2015). Day centres are closing. Adult social care is in crisis across the country. The state is turning its back on people with learning disabilities and we should all be disturbed by this. Suggestions that we should allow a lower minimum wage to get the learning disabled into work come from a place of vision of the future and desperately looking for solutions.
But how can we campaign for equality when it comes to education, health and other societal norms but then go and undo that good work by suggesting to employers that the LD can be paid less because they will produce less, immediately giving employers and society in general the impression that they do not carry the same value. Literally worth-less. We can’t. We just can’t. We must start from a position of equality and find, or create, work opportunities which combat weaknesses.

When I started work as a teenager I was on a Youth Training Scheme at Barclays Bank where I was paid the princely sum of £25 per week, whereas my colleague Peter, doing exactly the same job, was on staff and paid three times as much. I was better at the job than he was and everyone couldn’t quite believe the unfairness of it all. Barclays were laughing. They were getting all of the benefits of a permanent member of staff without paying for it.

And the same situation wouldn’t be fair for our young people either. How do we know that they won’t be able to do a job as well as someone else? We don’t. According to Mencap, research has identified various barriers to people with LD getting and keeping a job. These include:
  • ·         Negative attitudes and low expectations of people with a learning disability, their families and carers.
  • ·         Negative attitudes and low expectations of employers.
  • ·         A lack of flexible, personalised employment programmes
  • ·         Unfair treatment, discrimination and bullying in the workplace
  • ·         Issues relating to access and support in the workplace

(Watts et al 2014; Roulstone et al 2014; Hall and Wilton 2015; Coleman et al 2013; Meager and Higgins 2011)

Essentially, it comes back to low expectations and insufficient support to enable a work opportunity to thrive. Resulting in “failure”.

Oh, and if this sounds familiar, it’s what you’re probably going through, or been through, with your young person at school. The same lack produces similar results, just in a different setting.

It’s time to raise the bar people!

…(To be continued)

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