Pathways for Young Disabled People Roundtable – 16/05/23
On Tuesday 16th May, I met with various Disabled People’s Organisations and charities to discuss pathways for young disabled people entering further education, training, or employment after they leave Key Stage 5 education. I was joined by the Shadow Minister for Children & Early Years Helen Hayes MP, the Shadow Minister for Employment Alison McGovern MP, and the Shadow Minister for Skills and Further Education Toby Perkins MP.
The discussion was immensely productive, with the contributors offering expert insight into the reality of the experience of disabled people and young disabled people when transitioning from education into employment or into further education.
The most significant takeaway was the need to raise the aspirations of young disabled people from an early age and encourage a co-produced approach to addressing the barriers many young disabled people face.
The Labour Party is committed to working with and being led by disabled people when it comes to dealing with the issues which affect them most. The discussions in this roundtable will help to inform and will contribute to Labour’s approach to these issues when in government.
Thank you to all who attended. Please see the summarised notes of our discussion below.
Raising of Aspirations and Removal of Barriers:
- There is complete agreement that much more needs to be done to raise the employment aspirations of disabled young people.
- Education, Health, and Care Plan discussions are deficit-based. Discussions are focused upon what disabled young people can’t do rather than what they can do. There needs to be a re-think which places aspiration and possibility at the centre of this.
- Many disabled people are worried about getting work and then losing their benefits. To ensure security while encouraging aspiration, there needs to be a safety net where disabled people can look for work and get work without being worried about their benefits entitlement then being stripped away from them because of that.
- It can be difficult to access funding due to complexity in the application process, which can vary considerably based upon where you live. There needs to be more consistency in how to apply for and where to find funding.
- Many disabled people feel they must ‘fight the system’ to get the support they need. This encourages an antagonistic relationship with the systems which should exist to help disabled people and can be mentally exhausting and discouraging when trying to find work or enter further education. £250 million was spent fighting tribunals when this money could be spent elsewhere on support.
- We need to build the confidence of disabled young people so they feel they can assert their rights in the workplace and can speak with confidence when requesting reasonable adjustments.
- It is empowering for young disabled people to see and hear about disabled people in positions of power or influence. We need to make more of an effort to promote disabled people into these positions so they can act as positive role models for younger generations to aspire to.
- It is important to emphasise that the person is not the barrier to work – the lack of support for them is.
Supported Internships and Traineeships:
- We need to have better quality supported internships for young disabled people. There needs to be a diverse approach to this, as there is not one single appropriate or available path that works for everyone. Supported internships should instead be looked at with an evidence-based approach rather than a ‘one size fits all’ policy.
- Many young disabled people struggle with entering employment as they have had not had the same opportunities to build up their CV as other young people have had. There needs to be a focus on reintroducing more traineeships and encouraging good quality early-career work experience for young disabled people.
- There must be more support for young disabled people to actually get a job, and once in a job, have access to the same levels of learning and developing opportunities while at work.
- Employers should not be encouraged to employ young autistic people or people with a learning disability by offering wage incentives, as this falsely suggests that people with a learning disability or autism do not contribute as much as others do.
Lack of support at certain ages – post-25 drop-off:
- There needs to be a consistent strategic planned approach to pathways for all young disabled people when leaving school.
- There should be a curriculum framework which outlines clear transition pathways for pre-leaving college and post-leaving college, and a look to move into offering a lifelong learning model.
- There is a considerable drop-off in support for disabled people after they reach 25 years old – referred to in the roundtable as the ‘cliff-edge’.
- There is also a drop-off in support at 18 for young disabled people, and pre-16 there is not enough focus on preparing for further education and employment. Support needs to be joined up with the transition into adulthood and employment.
Improvements to Disability Confident and Improving Employers Confidence:
- Disability Confident needs to be strengthened. Action plans are not held to account and there is a need for more support mechanisms within Disability Confident.
- Many employers want to employ disabled people – they are just not sure how and do not feel confident doing so. There is a need to build employers confidence in employing disabled people.
- We need to question exactly what employers are concerned about and find ways to address these concerns. Disability Confident could be used to assist in this.
- Employer-Employee relationship needs to be viewed as one of equal partners when developing accommodations and focusing on disabled employee development and learning.
Holistic approach to Housing, Education, and Transport:
- Housing – more must be done to accommodate young disabled people looking for jobs/apprenticeships/further education who need semi-supported living arrangements.
- Education – there was a feeling among some that we can’t address issues of employment integration for disabled people if we don’t address the issue of segregation in schools. However, there was not complete agreement over how to do this or over the role of disability specialist (SEN) schools.
- We need to be embedding employment at the earliest point within the education curriculum.
- Transport – the infrastructure is simply not there for many young disabled people looking for jobs in parts of the country. There are limited bus and train routes in some areas; a struggle to deal with the cost of peak travel time prices; a lack of bus passes to provide affordable travel; and the difficulties of having to contend with delays or cancellations in public transport when there are limited alternative options for travel.
- There needs to be a local provision of services to make them accessible for everyone.
- Transport considerations need to be considered as part of the funding for disabled people and accessing it needs to be a streamlined process.
Access to Work:
- This scheme received positive feedback from all involved in the roundtable, although there was acknowledgement that there is still work to be done to improve it.
- There is a feeling that it is not working properly for individuals, service providers, or employers.
- There are still considerable barriers to self-employment and other atypical forms of employment for disabled people. Many young disabled people do not have a Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number. Firstly, it can take a considerable amount of time for young disabled people to receive their UTR number. Then, when they do receive a UTR number, employers often question how they coped without one and question whether they really need one because they have managed to get by without one.
- We need to see more work on how we can use emerging technologies like AI to assist with getting young disabled people into work and further education and how to prepare disabled people to be ready for work.
- Technology does pose some problems for moving disabled people into the next stages of their education or employment, such as digital exclusion of disabled people who are not accommodated by certain technology.
- To address this, we need more technological support and access support for those who require it, and for these adjustments to be better understood by employers and employees.
- Communications in application systems, such as job or further education applications, and communications while in work can be inaccessible for some disabled people.
- ALL communications need to be sent out from the start in accessible formats – including easy-read versions that are co-produced with disabled people.
- Accessible communications and forms etc. need to be available from the start of the application process, rather than having to request them through an inaccessible format.
- A cross-departmental approach is crucial for addressing these issues going forward.
- While departments are siloed away neatly, disabled people’s lives are not. There needs to be a ‘de-siloing’ of disabled people’s issues because it is an issue with the entire system rather than being specific to only health, education, or work etc.
- There needs to be cross-departmental systems for tracking and providing accountability for disabled people and young disabled people in work.
Need for Co-Production:
- There are significant problems posed by talking about what disabled people need or don’t need without disabled people being at the heart of this.
- Disabled People’s Organisations need to be a crucial part of assisting with this work. Co-production must be the approach used as we move forward, as this will give validity and accuracy to how we address these issues and gain the confidence of the disabled community. The tenet “nothing about us without us” is central to this work.
- We must learn lessons from the damage that has already been done to not make the same mistakes in our approach. The best way to ensure this is to listen to the issues raised by young disabled people, as they are the ones most affected by these policies.
- Young disabled people need to be a core part of the redesign of services by being co-designers and must be engaged with in good faith.