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Employment and disability
His original remark was that people with learning disability are "not worth" the minimum wage. The whole incident draws attention to the plight of people with disability who are unable to gain employment.
They are subject to a triple whammy: poor perception of people with disability, discrimination, and a lack of useful or meaningful employment.
As Ciara Lawrence stated in The Independent on 17th October 2014:
“People with a learning disability – people like me – often feel like we’re not good enough, like we’re second class citizens. We are discriminated against every single day and made to feel like we’re different.” She has happily got work with Mencap as a campaign assistant.
An expression of the employer’s own discomfort
Perhaps most of us in the care services have encountered the problem of this kind of discrimination. I recall a colleague telling me that a job candidate using a wheelchair had been unsuccessful because "he wouldn't be comfortable in the office all day". Never mind the availability of special seating, never mind the candidate's obvious keenness to work. My colleague was perhaps expressing only their own discomfort.
I also recall an endless trek with a client with learning disability to seek work, and how disappointing and wearing the refusals became. In the end, thankfully, he found suitable work with my employer.
A more creative approach
More creative approaches can be taken, rather than the shameful penny pinching which Lord Freud seemed to be considering.
There are highly effective schemes in Scandinavia to integrate special education with subsequent employment (http://bit.ly/1yJtO6S), and in this country there are excellent local innovations: East Sussex Healthcare is working with partnership agencies to provide internships leading to employment for people with learning disability, and Somerset County Council is setting up a new learning disability watchdog body to guard people's rights, including employment.
But perhaps we all need to do more, to raise expectations that people with learning disability have not just some local opportunities, but a national enforced, and resourced, strategy to guarantee employment opportunities for people with learning disability.
Indeed it would be a master stroke of politics if our Government were, on the back of this scandalous episode, to set up a consultation process to begin such a strategy. In such a scenario campaigning and advocacy would be replaced by an automatic right to be seen as equals in the job market.
We can only hope for, and work towards making this happen.
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