This blogpost is the third in a set looking at various aspects of the social care statistics recently published by NHS Digital for 2021/22, focusing on adults with learning disabilities in England. The first two blogposts gave an overview of trends in social care support and social care spending for adults with learning disabilities.
This blogpost updates previous posts on what the statistics say about the self/paid employment of working age (aged 18-64 years old) adults with learning disabilities in England. These figures are provided by local authorities every year, and since 2014/15 have only been provided for people getting long-term social care (before 2014/15 it was the larger group of people known to local authorities as a person with learning disabilities, even if they weren't getting long-term social care support). This means that these figures don't include the much, much larger group of adults with learning disabilities who aren't known to local authorities or GPs and who don't get any kind of support related to their learning disability.
It is important to note that these statistics are collected for financial years (April to March), so they will represent what was happening for adults with learning disabilities up to March 2022, through the continuing COVID-19 pandemic in England. It is also really important to say that the quality of this information has been questioned at the best of times – there are massive caveats about the extent to which local authorities would be able to collect this kind of information accurately throughout a pandemic.
Some of the numbers reported here are included in the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (indicator 1E, if you're interested), although some of the numbers are more buried in publicly available but less accessible CSV datafiles.
What do the numbers tell us?
The first graph below shows the number of working age adults with learning disabilities that councils say are in any self/paid employment, broken down by whether people are in employment for 16+ hours per week or less than 16 hours per week (and 1 hour a week can count in these statistics). The gap between 2013/14 and 2014/15 is because of the change in data collection I mentioned earlier, so numbers before and after then can't be compared, and 2008/2009 was the first year that information was collected so it's rather dodgy for that year.
According to these figures, in 2021/22 there were 6,380 working age adults with learning disabilities getting long-term social care in any form of self/paid employment. After a couple of years of the number of people in paid/self employment edging towards 8,000, this is now the lowest number of people in paid employment since the first dodgy year of data collection in 2008/09. Consistent across the years is that most of the people in employment (71% of people in 2021/22) are working for less than 16 hours per week.
What do these numbers mean in terms of employment rates? The graph below shows the employment rates for working age adults with learning disabilities over the same time period. The columns show the overall employment rate - in 2021/22 this was 4.8%, compared to 76% for adults generally in March 2022. This is the lowest employment rate for adults with learning disabilities recorded since the statistics were changed in 2014/15.
The lines on the graph show employment rates for men and women with learning disabilities separately. Employment rates for men (the purple line) are consistently higher (5.3% in 2021/22) than employment rates for women (the blue line) (4.1% in 2021/22 with this gender employment gap staying fairly stable over time.
The last graph below sounds an appropriate note of caution about the reliability of information on self/paid employment provided by councils. This shows, for all working age adults with learning disabilities getting long-term social care, whether councils say they are: 1) in self-paid employment; 2) not in employment but actively seeking work (and presumably therefore liable to potential benefit sanctions); 3) not in employment but not actively seeking work. There is also a fourth category, where councils say they don't know the employment status of the person.
Over time, the number of people whose employment status is unknown has decreased rapidly, from 44% of working age adults with learning disabilities in 2014/15 to 21% of people in 2021/22 (21% is still a big chunk, however). It is unclear how councils are making decisions about whether to record someone as actively seeking work or not.
Overall, this update shows, bearing in mind understandable caveats about the quality of the information that could be collected during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, further reductions in employment rates (from a ridiculously low base) for working age adults with learning disabilities getting long-term social care, with most work being extremely part-time, and a gender employment gap.
As far as we know, many more than 5.1% of working age adults with learning disabilities want to work. We know that secure, stable paid employment for people with learning disabilities is associated with better physical and mental health, and we know that supported employment is highly cost-effective. Building sustainable, fulfilling paid employment for people with learning disabilities, in our current circumstances of wide-ranging labour shortages, surely has to be an urgent ‘building back better’ priority? Perhaps the ambitions of the May 2022 Government adult social care reform white paper will be reflected in improved figures next year...