Employment challenges for people with a learning disability and/or autism during the Covid-19 pandemic in Wales
Already at a disadvantage
The study reveals that employment for people with a learning disability and/or autism has always been a challenge, with low level employment rates compared to the general population. Only 5.1% of adults with a learning disability in England and 22% of autistic adults in the UK are in some sort of paid employment. However, the supported employment model has been found to be an effective way of supporting these individuals to access the labour market and lead independent lives, the question was whether this could be sustained throughout a pandemic.
Job coaching support can help
The Engage to Change project faced a number of challenges in delivering employment during the pandemic and had to reinvent itself to find new ways to support young people. The study reports that the project successfully supported young people with a learning disability and/or autism during the pandemic. The rate of furlough for the Engage to Change project cohort was similar to the general population in Wales, and job coaching appeared to offer protection from job loss for this vulnerable group of workers. The study evaluated the proportion of young people being furloughed or working remotely compared to the general population in Wales and described innovative initiatives to support young people being furloughed, made redundant, or searching for employment such as:
- Welfare benefits advice and advocacy, as young people went out of paid work or placement onto welfare benefits.
- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (or “furlough”) – During the first and subsequent “firebreak” lockdowns, 46 young people from the Engage to Change project were furloughed, 25% of those in paid work.
- 9 people (5%) shifted their job to smart working, supported by employers and delivery partners.
- The development and delivery of an accredited course about keeping safe during the COVID pandemic.
- Moving support online including job clubs and induction sessions.
Supported employment model crucial going forward
In conclusion, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the jobs of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in Wales but a multi-agency approach such as job coaching can successfully support young people with learning disabilities and/or autism. The supported employment model effectively supports individuals with learning disabilities and/or autism to access the labour market and lead independent lives, even during a crisis.