Mencap written submission 

Mencap is a charity set up to support people with a learning disability. As a result this submission will focus on two sections of Bright Blue’s call for evidence; Disability Discrimination focusing on work and welfare and Human Rights.

People with a learning disability have a right to work1 and we want employment to be considered a fundamental part of their life. Mencap wants a future where people with a learning disability are receiving the right support to access and stay in work. We want employers to understand that people with a learning disability make good workers when supported properly and to employ many more people with a learning disability on merit. This will help individuals to have a choice about what work they do and enrich their lives.

Mencap supports the UK Government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap.

If the Government are to meet this target we would encourage swift progress with presenting proposals to Parliament in a new bill. There needs to be leadership to deliver this vision

People with a learning disability are among the most disadvantaged people in society; they still suffer widespread abuse and neglect and are often discriminated against.

While significant progress has been made in recent years, both in terms of the level of public understanding and acceptance of people with a learning disability, as well as in terms of the laws and policies which govern the way they are treated and the services they receive, we believe that there is a lot more that still needs to be done to ensure people with a learning disability will have their rights respected.

The Human Rights Act and Britain being a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights guarantees the rights people with a learning disability have at home and abroad. Mencap would not want to see any weakening of the rights people currently enjoy.

The Disability Employment Gap and people with a learning disability

Causes of the Disability Employment Gap and methods to tackle it

Approximately 8 out of 10 working age people with a learning disability have a mild or moderate learning disability, but less than 2 in 10 are in employment. This is despite the fact that the vast majority can and want to work. When we consider people with a more severe learning disability who are 'known to social services’ then only 6 in 100 are in work.2

Many people with a learning disability face particular barriers to accessing employment. These include a lack of good quality support to get and maintain employment and to build confidence and skills. Employer attitudes and lack of understanding as to what people with a learning disability can do with the right support also plays a part. In addition, levels of employer awareness of key government support schemes, such as the Access to Work programme, are very low.

A comparison to the wider disability community and the general population, where 49% and 79% are in work3, shows the impact of the many barriers faced by people with a learning disability.

Both attitudes and a lack of understanding of disability by employers can be a fundamental barrier to people with a learning disability finding and staying in employment. There are however, examples of employers who have actively worked with Mencap to provide opportunities for people with a learning disability with extremely positive responses. This includes ‘job carving’ roles for disabled people – creating roles which play to the strengths of a disabled person and allowing for flexibility within roles and working arrangements to respond to changing needs.

Improvements to Public Services and Welfare

Mencap believes that the decision to reduce support for the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) and its equivalent in Universal Credit will worsen employment outcomes.

‘Halving the Gap’4 an independent review into the disability employment gap by Lord Low, Baroness Meacher and Baroness Grey-Thompson, recognised the main barriers for work for people in the WRAG included their health condition or disability and the attitudes of employers. Recognising that people need adjustments, such as more time with work coaches and flexibility around deadlines or, for many people with a learning disability, more intense support and coaching before moving toward work, is vital. As important is involving employers through structured work placements and ensuring greater awareness of the Access to Work Programme. The Government’s disability confident campaign has made some important steps towards changing attitudes but would benefit from deeper integration with small and medium sized enterprise.

Furthermore, cutting the amount of financial support in ESA WRAG cannot reasonably be considered to ‘remove the disincentive to work’, as the Government suggested during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act. Members of this group are by definition not fit for work and there is no evidence to support this assertion.

The Government can take a number of steps to improve outcomes. Improving funding, administration and widening access and awareness among employers of the Access to Work Programme will help to support more disabled people in work and provide employers with support.

The Government should also look at improving signposting and accessibility of support, particularly at Job Centre Plus. Documents should be provided in easy read and sufficient numbers of job coaches should be trained in disability awareness and how to support people with a learning disability. They must also be given the time to support them. Mencap research has shown a 60% reduction in the number of Disability Employment Advisors since 2011. This trend must be reversed and more specialist disability employment advisors employed.

Also important is increasing access to apprenticeships. We are encouraged that Paul Maynard MP’s taskforce recommendations have been accepted and we hope for swift enactment.

The successor to the Work Programme and Work Choice, the new Work and Health Programme, must be a tailored, specialist and personalised employment programme, and properly funded. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously suggested that it would receive just £130 million in funding per year and be accessible to claimants after two years of unemployment. By comparison the reduction in support for ESA WRAG was £640 million a year.

Human Rights

More needs to be done to ensure that a human rights approach is embedded into every aspect of British public policy and this is especially important for people with a learning disability who still face discrimination and are at risk of abuse or neglect.

Both the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights offer a benchmark for fundamental rights, and a legal basis to guarantee minimum rights. This is especially important for people with a learning disability in general, and especially for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities who often have difficulties with communicating and can require round the clock support. It is also important for people with a learning disability, autism and behaviour that challenges, 3,500 of whom are in in-patient settings such as Winterbourne View, where there are well established concerns about the use of restraint, seclusion and over-medication, as well as long lengths of stay stretching into many years.

Mencap would not want to see any weakening of the rights of people with a learning disability and would seek assurances on what additional safeguards a British Bill of Rights would provide over existing legislation.

Withdrawal from the ECHR would weaken an individual’s appeal rights and undermine both the rights of people with a learning disability and their family and carers. By way of example the ECHR ruled in the case of Coleman vs Attridge Law5 that it was illegal to discriminate against an employee who was not themselves disabled but whose child was. From the point of view of someone with a learning disability both the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights have supported their rights and if these are to be replaced any new system must be similarly robust in protecting rights.