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Learning disabled suffer ‘Up to 87% decrease in paid employment’ throughout pandemic, according to PHE data

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As the employment gap between those with learning disabilities and the wider population reaches record highs; experts call on local government and HR departments to offer increased support for neurodiversity in the workplace.

The number of supported adults with learning disabilities in paid employment fell by 87% in some areas during the pandemic, according to the latest PHE data. In some local authorities in England, just 0.4% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment.

On average, only around one in 20 supported working-age adults with a learning disability (5.6%) are now in paid employment in England. Neurodiversity in the workplace has been found to offer companies a competitive advantage by the employee finding different solutions to problems, though these figures released in 2021 show that 94.4% are without paid jobs nationwide. 

The areas with the biggest year-on-year drops in paid learning disability employment are Gloucestershire (-87%), Harrow (-81%), Essex (-69%), Stockport (-55%) and Barking & Dagenham (-52%). Gloucestershire has the lowest employment rate of those with learning disabilities, just 0.4%, meaning almost total unemployment among such individuals in the county.

The data, collated from PHE by learning disability nurse recruitment specialists MCG Healthcare, highlights the regions where people with learning disabilities need greater assistance following the pandemic. The figures have prompted experts to call for employers and local authorities to assess the accessibility of online recruitment processes, home working practices, and mental health support.

The average UK employment rate in June 2021 was 75.1%, compared to 5.6% for learning disability adults, bringing the problem into sharp focus. With the jobs market picking up swiftly, organisations nationwide are being urged to support candidates with learning disabilities, wherever possible.

Ash Higgs, Director of MCG Healthcare, says:

“Even though the market appears to be improving now, the pandemic has obviously left many people unemployed. For people with learning disabilities though, 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.

“Our nurses see, at first hand, just how fulfilled some people with learning disabilities are by their jobs. We aim to give people as much independence as possible, and work plays a huge part in that, giving people a sense of control and achievement.”

How can companies make themselves more accessible for the neurodiverse?

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, part-time employment which provides crucial entry-level employment has declined almost 10%. For many, this comes at a time when care charges are rising – by more than £500 in two years in some places, according to a recent freedom of information request by the BBC.

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Matt Boyd, founder of neurodiverse recruitment agency Exceptional Individuals, says:

“Some of the challenges really show up in the recruitment process. Shifting everything online – especially for our community, who live with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning differences and disabilities that show when processing information – it’s been particularly difficult for them.

“The challenges have definitely become more prominent since the pandemic, there’s a lot more anxiety. People with neuro diversities and learning disabilities are more likely to have mental health problems anyway and the pandemic has just added to that.

“Having a neurodiverse community within your organisation, they’ll find different solutions to problems, different ways of doing things. But additionally, they’ll represent a section of your customer base, since they’d be the one buying your products a lot of the time. They can give you the point of view of the 10% of the population who have learning disabilities or neurodivergence, which is an absolutely massive benefit.”

Sheryl Miller, diversity & inclusivity consultant and author of Smashing Stereotypes: How To Get Ahead When You’re the Only _____ in the Room, says: 

“For some people with learning disabilities, 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. 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 be able to effectively carry out a task. 

“Home-working, therefore, may limit the ways in which messages can be communicated unless managers and colleagues are very creative. They may also have a preference for routines and set places which the pandemic may have disrupted.

“People are more aware of neurodiversity than they were before. With additional training or self-learning, they are starting to become more aware of the additional support that may be required for someone whose neurodiversity creates particular challenges.”

How can you support people with learning disabilities?

Members of the public can donate much-needed funds to charities such as Mencap and Scope, where they can also volunteer their time. If you’re looking for a career helping those with learning disabilities, MCG Healthcare recruits for learning disability nursing roles.

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