Headlines: October 20th, 2005

Local secondary schools and colleges have too few resources and inadequate skills and experience to support students with learning disabilities, according to a report today from the Open Society Institute produced in co-operation with the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities. The report, “Rights of People with Intellectual Disabilities: Access to Education and Employment in the UK”, points to continuing inadequacies in the UK’s mainstream education and employment systems.The report says that although UK legislation and policy sets out to include more children in mainstream schools, there is a need for more resources and training. It also points to the difficulties faced by young people with learning disabilities making the transition from school to employment.

Hazel Morgan, Co-Director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities and one of the authors of the report, said a number of changes needed to be made to enable secondary schools to include children with disabilities. “We need more specialist teachers who can give them the support they need and there also needs to be greater flexibility in both teaching arrangements and the curriculum if children with learning disabilities are to be included,” she added.

Many of the young people were not prepared for employment opportunities leaving school instead with no skills or experience, making it virtually impossible for them to find a job. In spite of clear Government policies the Valuing People Support Team estimated that only 11 per cent of people with learning disabilities in England are in paid employment. The lack of employment opportunities, meant most were “economically inactive”, relying on benefits, such as Income Support and Disability Living Allowance as well as other non-disability specific benefits.

Another of the report’s authors, Dr. Stephen Beyer from the Welsh Centre for Learning Disabilities, said, “There is not enough appropriate support available for people with learning disabilities, Government schemes aren’t fully geared towards helping them and the benefits system acts as a barrier.” The social welfare system was meant to help people make the move from benefits to employment, but the reality was different for people with learning disabilities. The fear that any form of work would threaten their benefit status acted as a deterrent to finding a job, particularly for people in staffed accommodation who could potentially lose their Housing Benefit.

The report calls for the Government to consider ideas for radical reform, including abandoning “incapacity” as an organising principle and replacing it with compensation for “disadvantage in the labour market”. Other recommendations to policy makers include offering more appropriately resourced mainstream education and employment opportunities to people with learning disabilities.

Today’s report has been written by the Welsh Centre for Learning Disabilities at Cardiff University, Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research at the University of Glasgow, School of Nursing at the University of Ulster, the Northern Ireland Union of Supported Employment and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities. It is one of a series of 14 country reports monitoring access to education and employment throughout Europe.