To continue, I will focus today on the risks that the economic consequences of covid pose to the job opportunities of people with learning disabilities. Locally in Crewe and Nantwich, there are a range of organisations that try to find job opportunities for people. Organisations such as Safe Opportunities and Seetec Pluss, employers such as AO.com and charities such as Community Recycle Cycles have all worked tremendously hard, and secured successful and ongoing employment for people with diagnoses associated with learning disabilities, such as Down’s syndrome and autism.
Those organisations are understandably concerned about the impact the covid-19 pandemic we will have on their ability to carry on delivering this work. We know that even before the pandemic there was a significant gap in the employment of those with learning disabilities. I have heard from residents who have struggled to find work because of their disabilities, and from their families. Recently, I took part in a meeting with Scope that explored this issue and heard from people with lived experience of it.
What might happen now? Employers might rightly be concerned about the health risks their employees could face, given what we discussed earlier regarding the additional risks that we have seen for people with learning disabilities. If we are being realistic, employers who are laying people off and struggling to make ends meet might not go as far as they ordinarily would to try and stretch people’s employability and support people into employment who have disabilities of any kind, including learning disabilities. That is the reality we will face.
Nevertheless, we cannot afford to have a lost generation of young people with learning disabilities who have missed out on employment that they would otherwise have been able to secure. The Disability Confident campaign was launched by the then Prime Minister in 2013, and it aims to encourage businesses to employ disabled people. By December 2019, more than 15,000 employers had signed up to the scheme, as they wanted to offer disabled people roles in their organisations.
There are also local initiatives. As I mentioned, we have an organisation in Crewe and Nantwich called Safe Opportunities. It has launched a campaign called Big10forSEN, which is building towards having 10 big employers locally that are putting in the effort to secure employment for people with learning disabilities.
There are other measures available. There is the 2017 personal support package, which gives people access to a disability employment adviser, and the Access to Work scheme, which provides financial support for the extra costs of being in work that go beyond the reasonable adjustments that are required in law. As part of the Access to Work scheme, specialist support is provided to people with learning disabilities and other less visible disabilities through a hidden impairment specialist team.
In response to the pandemic, the Department for Work and Pensions has worked tremendously hard to develop policy to prevent ill health-related job losses, but we must not forget the Government’s ambition to get 1 million more disabled people into work by 2027. We cannot allow the coronavirus to prevent that from happening.