The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Chloe Smith MP, visited learning disability charity Hft’s Flintshire services yesterday to better understand the support people with learning disabilities require on their journey into work or while in employment.
Hft regional manager, Jordan Smith, and Richard Ferris-Jones, a person supported by Hft, gave the Minister a tour of Abbey Upcycling, a small day service run by Hft on behalf of Flintshire County Council. The service focuses on woodworking skills, bicycle recycling and bicycle servicing and each day works with up to 15 people with moderate learning disabilities to teach skills, provide a safe environment and promote independence.
Providing practical employment skills is a key objective of the scheme. Figures show that the proportion of adults with a learning disability in paid employment in the UK has decreased over time and currently stands at just 5.1%. Research carried out by Hft for its ‘Lockdown On Loneliness’ campaign in 2021 found that the lack of access to paid employment was a significant barrier to friendship and connection among adults with learning disabilities
The Minister also met Abi Skillen, a DFN Project SEARCH employability coach, who spoke about her involvement in training interns with learning disabilities and helping them into paid employment. The DFN Project SEARCH model is a supported internship programme which allows young people with learning disabilities and/or autism to have a full academic year working onsite in a large host business.
Two DFN Project SEARCH graduates, Erin O’Donnell and Ross Dowell, told the Minister how the programme had helped them improve their skills and what a difference it had made to their lives. They also discussed what they thought should be done to support more people with a learning disability and/or autism into meaningful employment.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without Project SEARCH and my confidence has grown so much,
said Erin, who is now working as a Community Assistant for ClwydAlyn Housing Association on a six-month Kickstart programme.
Ross, who has autism spectrum disorder and a mild learning disability, is now a Mid-Day Supervisory Assistant at Ysgol Pen Coch Specialist Primary School in Flint and loves his job. He said:
My Project SEARCH training has taught me to work independently as well as in a team, and my problem-solving skills have improved enormously,
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Chloe Smith MP, said:
It was fantastic to visit Abbey Upcycling and see first-hand the wonderful work of Hft helping local people with learning disabilities gain valuable experience through supported internships for future job opportunities.
The latest figures show over one million more disabled people are in work compared to five years ago, and I welcome employers across the UK creating more inclusive and diverse workforces through government schemes like Access to Work and Disability Confident.
Disabled people deserve the same opportunities for a fulfilling working life as everyone else and it’s fantastic to see employers help more and more reach their full potential, while also benefitting from a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Jordan Smith said:
We were really pleased that the Minister chose to visit our project today. It has been a great opportunity to highlight the skills and talents of some of the people we support. Alongside demonstrating how supported internships and social enterprise models can make long-lasting changes to people’s lives, we were also able to discuss some of the real barriers that people with learning disabilities face when trying to enter the world of work.
Notes to editors
Hft is a national charity that creatively supports more than 2,200 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Services range from residential care to supporting people to live independently in their own homes – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.
Established in 1962, Hft is funded in two ways: through local authorities, who fund vital support services, but also through donors, supporters and volunteers who enable us to find new ways to help more people to thrive rather than just get by.
For more information about Hft please visit www.hft.org.uk