Increasing the social value of people with learning disabilities through employment

On the 3rd October, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities launched the first national workshop for the When I Grow Up project at our London office. The project aims to bring together three schools in South East England, to develop employment expectations and aspirations for people with learning disabilities and improve opportunities for paid work for the young people involved.

The workshop focused on the importance of Social Role Valorisation (SRV) and how employment can be an ideal vehicle for ensuring that people with learning disabilities are valued by society. The concept of Social Role Valorisation was developed by Wolf Wolfensberger in the mid-90s and built on the work of Neils Bank-Mikkelson and Bengt Nirje from the 1950’s and 60’s. SRV holds that disabled people are labelled as different, judged as different and will go on to have common negative experiences leading to characteristic societal responses and service models.

Wolfensberger and others argued that, to make these changes as a society, we need to raise the social value of people with learning disabilities so that they develop important roles in society. In the past, the focus for people with learning disabilities has been on what they cannot do, with only tokenistic opportunities to be ‘part of the community’ offered.

What better way to achieve this than through getting a job? Through employment people gain confidence, develop social networks and friends, gain financial independence and have choice and control over their lives.

The need for this work is again highlighted in recent statistics which reveal that only 6.6% of people with learning disabilities are thought to be in paid employment (2011). In stark contrast to this statistic is the recent comment by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, who said that interest rates are unlikely to rise until the national unemployment rate falls below 7% and people with learning disabilities’ employment rates are only nearly as high as the rest of societies’ unemployment rates. This shows the gap we need to address.

We will be working with these schools for the next three years to develop the support they offer to young people with learning disabilities in preparation for work and encouraging them to think of new and innovative ways to support these young people to find employment.