Learning disabled adults experienced 87% decrease in paid employment during COVID-19

On average, only 5.6% of supported working-age adults with a learning disability are in paid employment in England, is it time for businesses to step up?

The employment gap between those with learning disabilities and the rest of the population reached “record highs” during the pandemic, with HR departments and the Government under pressure to offer more support.

The number of supported adults with learning disabilities in paid employment fell by as much as 87% in some areas during COVID-19, according to the latest Public Health England (PHE) data collected by learning disability nurse recruitment specialists MCG Healthcare. Furthermore, in some local authorities in England, only 0.4% of people with learning disabilities are in paid employment.

A lack of learning disabled adults in paid employment – the facts

On average, only 5.6% of supported working-age adults with a learning disability are now in paid employment in England, while figures from 2021 show that 94.4% are without paid jobs nationwide.

By area, 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 at just 0.4%, meaning almost total unemployment for these individuals in the county.

The average UK employment rate in June 2021 was 75.1%, compared to 5.6% for learning disabled adults, which highlights the acute lack of equality for this group when seeking employment.

Low employment levels for this group is even though neurodiverse candidates can bring a lot to the workplace, including an ability to find different solutions to problems, which can be seen as a competitive advantage.

Moreover, with the UK facing a buoyant jobs market, businesses are well placed to offer learning disabled candidates more job opportunities. First, they must assess how accessible their recruitment, homeworking, and mental health services are in order to include and support them.

Experts explain what businesses should do to help

Ash Higgs, Director of MCG Healthcare, said: “Even though the market appears to be improving now, the pandemic has left many people unemployed. For people with learning disabilities, 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.”

Matt Boyd, Founder of neurodiverse recruitment agency Exceptional Individuals, said: “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 means they’ll find different solutions to problems and different ways of doing things. But additionally, they’ll represent a section of your customer base since they’d be the ones 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, said: “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 carry out a task effectively.

“Home-working, therefore, may limit how 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.”

To learn more about disability charities, read about Mencap here and Scope here, where volunteering options are available. To find out more about MCG Healthcare, a company that recruits for learning disability nursing roles, click here.

To find out more about people with learning disabilities, Turning Point and the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD) have plenty of information and resources.

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