Last week I had the pleasure in joining some of the team that have been packing our quinoa grains and flakes for over a decade for a day trip in Honfleur, to thank them for the fabulous work they continue to provide. It was a very joyful day and we even managed to spot a dolphin from our boat trip.
However, the point of this post is not to talk about a day out. It concerns a societal issue where people with learning difficulties find themselves mostly unemployable, with 94% of this population being unemployed. Work for most of us provides a sense of belonging and purpose, an environment in which to be social with colleagues and often pride in what we have achieved and do. To be excluded from the world of work is a societal failure. Integrating people with learning difficulties requires both the workplace and the workflow to be adapted to their special needs, but there are numerous roles that this can easily be done for, which in our case means packing our quinoa grains and flakes. They do a marvellous and meticulous job, under the current team leadership of Karine.
Society has a duty of care if we are to be in a flourishing culture where no one is excluded. In France there is a wide network of ESATs, or dedicated establishments for people with learning or physical disabilities, meaning that just 14% of people with handicaps are unemployed, which is still much higher than the population at large. In the UK there are very few of these adapted work environments, with the amazing exceptions of such places as Oxford Wholefoods (https://www.oxfordwholefoods.co.uk/) set up by Rob over 30 years ago as a social enterprise to provide people with learning difficulties a supervised work activity. This means that in the UK only 5% of people with learning difficulties are in paid employment (Mencap report: https://www.mencap.org.uk/learning-disability-explained/research-and-statistics/employment-research-and-statistics).
Time for the UK to take some inspiration on how to provide meaningful employment to this wonderful and professionally excluded population.