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Learning Disabilities


People with learning disabilities have a significant, lifelong condition that started before adulthood, which affects their development and means they need help to understand information, to learn skills and to cope independently. Some people with learning disabilities are also on the autism spectrum, although individuals on the autism spectrum do not necessarily have learning disabilities.

It is estimated that there are around 26,000 adults in Scotland with learning disabilities who require support, out of which around a quarter (25%) are in employment or training for employment. In addition to the above figures, there are other adults in Scotland (almost three times as many) who have learning disabilities and had additional support needs whilst at school but are not currently using statutory learning disabilities services.

Barriers Faced

Many people with learning disabilities say they want to work, but face a number of barriers, including:

·     Lack of or low qualifications.

·     Lack of or little work experience

·     Skills deficiencies (e.g. difficulties with reading, writing and remembering, difficulty following many instructions and lack of independent living skills).

·     Employer attitudes/discrimination (employers often do not understanding the type of work they can do and the support they might need at work and do not want to take a risk with them).

·     Low expectations of people with learning disabilities in general.

·     Fear of losing benefits.

·     Lack of confidence and fear of being bullied.

·     Difficulties relating to transport.

·     Poor health. 

Policies and Interventions

In 2010, the Scottish Government published ' A Working Life for all Disabled People: The Supported Employment Framework for Scotland', outlining the government's commitment to a more consistent, person-centred approach to supporting disabled people who want to work. The Framework lists the actions to be undertaken to raise awareness of the supported employment model and enable more people in Scotland to take advantage of this type of support. 'Working for Growth, A Refresh of the Employability Framework for Scotland' which was published in 2012, also reinforced the government's commitment to supported employment. Subsequently in 2013, 'The Keys to Life: Improving Quality of Life for People with Learning Disabilities,' the Scottish Government's strategy to support individuals with learning disabilities was launched. It re-emphasised the government's commitment to supporting people with learning disabilities who want to work to be able to find work in mainstream employment that matches with their skills.

The Scottish Strategy for Autism recognises the need for specialist employment provision for people with autistic spectrum disorder and states that such provision should be developed as resources become available. The strategy explains that such provision would work to:

·     Develop specialist knowledge of the condition so that appropriate support can be provided to secure a good job.

·     Provide tailored one to one advice, support and guidance that puts the individual jobseeker at the centre and in control of the process.

·     Provide disability awareness to employers, enabling them to value the qualities people with autistic spectrum disorder bring to a job and understand the support required to make the job a success.

Employment support for people with a learning disability mainly lies with Jobcentre Plus and with Work Programme providers. For example, Disability Employment Advisers in Jobcentre Plus help clients to find work or to gain new skills and also provide information about disability friendly employers within their local area. Other interventions include:

·     Access to Work, programme which provides money towards a support worker or for the cost of equipment or travelling to work. A number of disabled people in employment have said they would not have been in employment without the help of Access to Work.

·     Work Choice. Support under this scheme may include training and skills development, confidence building and interview coaching.

·     Supported Employment, where disabled people work with support from colleagues and a job coach.

·     Residential training courses which cover a range of areas, such as adapting to impairment (independent living skills) and vocational courses.

·     Raising awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce. 

'Place and train' approaches (such as supported employment) are considered to be more effective than approaches that try to upgrade an individual's skills before placing them in employment.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act (2010) is the main piece of legislation that addresses discrimination and inequality in the UK. It brought together nine separate pieces of legislation into one. The majority of the provisions came into force on 1 October 2010. The following are the characteristics which are protected under the Equality Act (2010):

·     Age

·     Disability

·     Gender reassignment

·     Marriage and civil partnership

·     Pregnancy and maternity

·     Race

·     Religion or belief

·     Sex

·     Sexual orientation

The law prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination relating to any of these characteristics and individuals who feel they have been discriminated against on any of the above grounds can bring an action in court against the perpetrator. The law also prohibits victimisation of persons who have brought action against a perpetrator or given evidence in connection with proceedings under the Act. 

The Act prohibits discrimination across a broad range of areas including employment, the provision of goods and services to the public and the exercise of public functions. In addition a Public Sector Equality Duty came into force in April 2011. It assigned public bodies (and others discharging public functions, such as third sector organisations) the following duties:

·     Eliminating unlawful discrimintion.

·     Advancing equality of opportunity. 

·     Fostering good relations.

Specific duties within the Act require fit-for-purpose equality monitoring to be undertaken, at both national and local levels. As a result, a number of listed public authorities in Scotland are now required to publish a set of equality outcomes and to report on progress every two years. The specific duties also require the listed public authorities to undertake Equality Impact Assessment of new or revised policies and practices and to consider relevant evidence when making their assessments. 



·     Foundation for People with Learning Disabilites (2013)  Thinking Ahead: Improving Support For People With Learning Disabilities and Their Families to Plan For The Future

·     Hemmings, S. and Morris, J. (2004). Employing People With Learning Disabilities.  


Useful Links

·     Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability 

·     Enable Scotland 

·     Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

·     Summary Guide to Employment Policy, Structures and Initiatives in Scotland - September 2013


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