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Announcing the launch of our new campaign #Don’tStopMeNow

Young people aged 16-25 who have a learning disability, and their parents, are calling for more and better-quality support to help them access employment in a new campaign launched today.

In England, barely 5% of people with special education needs (SEND) known to their local authority are in employment, even though the SEND community has 900,000 people of working age and the vast majority (86%) of people with a learning disability want to get a paid job. As formal education ends, thousands of young people with SEND often face an employment cliff edge, just as their peers are beginning their adult working lives.

That’s why we are launching the #Don’tStopMeNow campaign today, aiming to bust the myth that people with a learning disability can’t work and challenge stereotypes that prevent them from entering the workforce or filling some of the 1.4 million open vacancies in the UK.

Research conducted for us by Opinium in June 2024 highlights how far society’s attitudes need to change when it comes to considering employment opportunities for young people with SEND.  The research shows that 9 out of 10 parents of children aged 16 – 25 without a learning disability are ‘regularly’ having conversations about careers, and 54% of parents of 16 – 18 year-olds are ‘often’ asked about their child’s future job plans.

This is in stark contrast to the experiences felt by parents of young people with SEND, where many families report that career aspirations are rarely, if ever, discussed by their teachers, their friends or their wider community. This is especially concerning given the mental and physical health issues associated with long-term unemployment and loneliness.

The #Don’tStopMeNow campaign seeks to transform this landscape, calling for more inclusive hiring practices and access to high-quality supported employment programmes, such as Supported Internships, in every local authority.

Supported internships are structured, work-based study programmes for 16 to 24-year-olds with SEND, who have an education, health and care (EHC) plan. Supported interns are enrolled and supported by a learning provider, for example, a school or college, but spend most of their learning time in a workplace. The internships provide the opportunity for young people to achieve sustained, paid employment by equipping them with the skills they need for work, through learning in the workplace

60% of graduates who take part in Supported Internships programmes supported by DFN Project SEARCH go on to secure full time employment. The charity is calling for greater access to high-quality supported internships in every local authority in the UK such is its success.

Tracy Bennet from Barnsley in Yorkshire, whose son Jacob (below) has a learning disability and struggled to find options after college, said:

Too often, it is simply society’s prejudices that prevent young people with SEND from thriving in employment, not their abilities. It was incredibly difficult to find any options for Jacob after he repeated the same college courses multiple times. It felt like there were too few opportunities and even fewer aspirations for him out there for him. The difference the supported internship and getting a permanent job has made in Jacob’s confidence and independence is astounding. He now has a vibrant social life and a brighter future. As a parent, I worry less about his future, knowing he has found a place where he can thrive.”

Jacob, who is working as a facilities assistant at Kendray Hospital, said:

“Getting a proper job has been life-changing for me, my mum and my dad. Looking for work can be a really bumpy road to start with and getting the support from my supported internship made a massive difference. When I got my confidence up, started talking to people, learnt how to complete tasks to a high standard, I realised I could get employed, everything changed for me.”

Claire Cookson, Chief Executive of DFN Project SEARCH, said:

“There has been great progress in recent years around workplace inclusivity and equitable hiring practices. But the disparity in the national polling and the stories we hear from parents we work with show that there is still a long way to go when it comes to meeting the career aspirations for young people with SEND.  If these brilliant young people gain the right support into employment and independence, it is not just a personal victory, it enriches their families, helps businesses and the economy and strengthens community ties. Today, we want to say to education providers, local authorities, policy-makers and employers – don’t stop them now, give them a boost to success.”

Studies have revealed that people with a learning disability stay in their jobs 3.5 times longer than their non-disabled co-workers. 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.