The Industry

The Bridge at Rickney copyright Mikey Brown
  • Easy Summary
  • In this blog I argue that lots of people are able to make a living out of people with a learning disability
  • All the money helps to create jobs that allow people to feel good about the work that they are doing;
  • Which is kind of ok but…
  • The thing that is wrong, is that people with learning disabilities aren’t given the same chances;
  • Only 6% of people with a learning disability who get social care have got a paid job ;
  • Organisations should change the way that they work and employ more people with learning disabilities;
  • If you give people more opportunities maybe they would need less support;
  • This isn’t just the government’s fault.

There is an industry that sustains itself on the lives of people with learning disabilities and some autistic people. It provides tens of thousands of jobs and it gives people careers and opportunities for personal development. Those careers can be in government, in charities, in consultancy and in social work, they can be in care and in health, they can be in academia and in the legal system and journalism. The lives of people with a learning disability are a world of opportunity and there are awards to be won and money to be made.

There is also meaning and fulfilment. How many people working in the sector nurture their own mental health and status with the feeling that they are trying to make the world a better place and that their labour benefits the lives of people who are less fortunate than them, or less able to fight for themselves. We might wrap our post-Victorian benevolence in the language of rights and campaigning rather than goodness, but the underlying need to find meaning in the struggles of others is the same.
And actually, there is only one thing wrong with any of this. After all, people need to make a living and we all need to find meaning in our lives, the problem is that very few of these opportunities are available to people with learning disabilities. The billions of pounds that are spent in the Learning Disability Industry are there for the careers of others, they are not available to people with learning disabilities themselves. In 2017-18 only 6% of people with learning disabilities in receipt of long-term social care support were in paid employment and most of those were working less than 16 hours a week.

As a young person with a learning disability and many autistic people approach adulthood – where is the hope of a job, of love and a home of your own? Where are the career paths in large organisations? Where are the BBC journalists with a learning disability? Where are the charity executives? Where are the paid researchers? The best way to support somebody’s mental health is to give them opportunity and from that hope. But rather than employ people with a learning disability, organisations will recruit therapists and support workers to provide support to people who are struggling because they can’t get jobs and they can’t find their place in the world.

You might think that a job couldn’t be performed by a person with a learning disability, that the job is too technical, too literate, or too managerial. But no organisation that involves itself in the lives of people with a learning disability can function without the knowledge and insight that only people with a learning disability can provide, but how many of those organisations are paying for that knowledge and expertise? How many have structured their employment to allow for paid collaborative co-working. Or are they merely involving, consulting, or working in partnership with people with a learning disability? If your “colleague” or “partner” isn’t being paid, they aren’t really a colleague, are they?

And if you are paying for the knowledge and insight that only a person with a learning disability can bring – are you paying enough? Is there an opportunity for employment and career development? What ways of working does your organisation need to change in order to make the employment of a person with a learning disability possible and what systems need to be put in place in order to support the needs of the employee and the employer?

A lot is made of the discrimination that people with a learning disability face and the impact that it has on their mental health. And we campaign bitterly, arguing that it’s the government’s fault, and some-times it is. But not always, sometimes it’s everybody.  

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