A new campaign to boost the number of people in employment with a learning disability or autism spectrum condition launches today during National Inclusion week.
The #InclusionRevolution initiative encourages UK businesses to recognise the social and economic value in employing young adults with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).
Led by national charity DFN Project SEARCH, the campaign aims to support 10,000 young adults between 18 – 25 years old with SEND in the UK into paid employment by 2030. The charity has supported almost 2,000 people into paid employment to date.
This initiative highlights the shocking reality that only 5% of people with learning disabilities in England secure paid employment, compared to 80% of their peers. That means an astonishing 95% will be forced to live a lifetime on benefits.
“The UK is wasting talent!” says David Forbes Nixon, former City financier and now Founder and Executive Chair of DFN Project SEARCH. “Young, ambitious adults who can offer employers so much are being prevented from accessing jobs due to stigma, prejudice, or inadequate support. Their skills and talents too often go unrecognised or overlooked by society and they face social and economic exclusion at a massive personal, social, and economic cost.”
“While the UK has made welcome progress on the diversity agenda in recent years, disability feels like the final frontier,” said Forbes-Nixon.
DFN Project SEARCH provides a one-year supported internship programme for young adults with a learning disability and/ or autism spectrum condition to help them make the transition from education to work. The charity works in partnership with Local Authorities, education providers, families and host employers ranging from NHS Trusts to some of the UK’s biggest businesses such as DPD, GSK and Marriott Hotels. Earlier this month, DFN Project SEARCH was part of a consortium Internship Works Programme, commissioned by the Department for Education to double the number of supported internships by March 2025.
The DFN Project SEARCH programme has a transformative effect on the interns who take part. Over 70% of DFN Project SEARCH graduates gain jobs, 60% of them achieving full-time permanent roles, compared to the 5.1% average in England.”
Claire Cookson, CEO of DFN Project SEARCH said: “We know that young people regularly say that getting a new job feels ‘impossible now’ because of the competition. For young people with learning disabilities or autism, getting a job is even harder. The impact of that means they are more likely to be socially isolated, live in poverty and poor housing, and have a shorter life expectancy.
“It doesn’t need to be like that. Our evidence-based model challenges misconceptions and enables young adults with a learning disability and autism spectrum conditions reach their full potential through employment. We work with so many brilliant young people who will make some of the best employees, but just need the opportunity.”
The #InclusionRevolution campaign will highlight that employing people with special educational needs and disabilities is not just a matter of doing what is morally and socially correct. With many sectors struggling with a skills gap, it makes simple business sense to explore this ocean of untapped potential.
- Studies have revealed that people with a learning disability stay in their jobs 3.5 times longer than their non-disabled co-workers.
- They also show that a high proportion of employees with a disability have their job performance rated as average or above and have been rated higher than those without a disability in terms of attendance and being on time.
- Numerous organisations are known to dramatically improve performance and retention in some high-turnover or hard-to-fill posts by employing people with learning disabilities.
Harry Georgiou, who is a Youth Advisory and Co-production Assistant at DFN Project SEARCH said: “We have so much talent to offer employers and can add real value to a workplace culture, but there are still far too many barriers facing the disabled community. Young people like me with a physical and learning disability want to be independent and take control of our lives. Having a job helps us to do that. It makes us feel valued. We can make a massive contribution to society.”
Ron Vos, General Manager for London Heathrow Marriott, and Heathrow Windsor Marriot, said: “Year after year DFN Project SEARCH provides us with glowing examples that serve a reminder as to why we continue to drive this partnership forward.”
DFN Project SEARCH is hugely grateful to the Youth Futures Foundation for the support they have provided for this campaign.
Throughout National Inclusion week and beyond, DFN Project SEARCH is calling on all businesses to review their recruitment procedures and consider employing more young adults with a learning disability, autism spectrum condition, or both. For more information about how to sign up to a DFN Project SEARCH programme visit https://www.dfnprojectsearch.org/