Untapped potential: UnLtd and Scope join forces to tackle the disability employment gap

New partnership and funding opportunity launched, offering further support for social entrepreneurs with bold ideas to transform employment for disabled people

Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people, and only one in every 16 people with a learning disability is in paid employment. The statistics are stark, but the good news is that social entrepreneurs are tackling this challenge head-on.

And expert support and funding is now available, through Transforming Employment for Disabled People – a new partnership between UnLtd and Scope. The collaboration is being launched against a background of steadily falling unemployment, but not everyone who wants to work can gain appropriate, meaningful employment.

The statistics on the disability employment gap (the difference in employment rate of disabled and non-disabled people) are eye-opening. This social challenge also represents an economic inefficiency, Scope estimates that even a small rise in the number of disabled people in work could bring billions of pounds into the UK economy.

People with enterprising ideas can change things and truly transform employment for disabled people. That’s why UnLtd is now partnered with Scope for the first time, to support social entrepreneurs across the UK to start and grow their ideas, projects or ventures.

Expressions of interest are now open and submissions must be received before August 1st.

UnLtd-backed Jane Chong and Jane Kippax, both parents to children with Down’s Syndrome, are among the social entrepreneurs already transforming access to employment. Together, they run the Bristol-based bakery Step and Stone which provides employment and training opportunities for young people with learning disabilities.

Jane Kippax said: "We were appalled that only 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment and were determined to have an impact on this figure by setting up a project which would provide training and education and progression into meaningful employment."

The idea began small, involving people with a learning disability in making a lavosh flatbread. The food proved to be popular and the idea grew quickly into a business. Before long, Step and Stone were selling to delis and fine food shops across Bristol. The venture received funding and support from UnLtd in November 2017, helping the team to scale both their ambition and social impact.The lack of opportunities for people with learning disabilities has wider effects than just employment. People with learning disabilities can experience social isolation. A big part of Step and Stone’s work goes beyond training technical skills and raising confidence and focuses on creating a community. Regular social outings help build friendships between staff and volunteers.

Step and Bake the social entrepreneurs at work

Flexible working is one way to overcome accessibility issues and barriers. Jane explains:

“At Step and Stone we have developed visual recipe cards, which enable our young people to make up batches of dough independently. Once they have been shown how to do a job a few times and have had a few chances to practice under supervision, they always do the task to perfection.”

But the biggest issue is still simply a lack of opportunities. Organisations worry about hiring someone with a learning disability. They shouldn’t be worried. According to Jane:

“Once the person with a learning disability is given a chance, they typically make very dedicated and loyal members of staff. From our experience, they often increase the morale of the whole team.”

Setting up a social venture has certainly had its challenges, but Jane is adamant that it’s been worthwhile. She said:

“This is without doubt the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. However, resilience, persistence and passion are the qualities that have kept us going through the tough patches.”

The venture’s next move is to open a cafe in or near Bristol. This will allow them to offer an even greater range of work experience opportunities and show the public the talents of the young people who work there.

Nas Morley, UnLtd Director of Partnerships & Influence, said:

“Being able to work means so much more than just the ability to drive an income. Access to meaningful employment is such helps build independence, confidence and empowers those who feel less connected with society – not just disabled people, but everyone. Ventures such as Step and Stone are doing incredible work to tackle this challenge. They clearly prove social entrepreneurs are ideally placed to offer some of the most effective and innovative solutions to improving access to employment for all. We’re thrilled to partner with Scope to support more brilliant social entrepreneurs, maximise their impact and, together, tackle the disability employment gap.”

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at Scope, said:

“Initiatives like Step and Stone are a brilliant example of the huge benefits that disabled workers bring to businesses. Scope’s radical new strategy is about finding innovative ways to make change happen, and our partnership with UnLtd embodies that approach. That’s why together with UnLtd, we’re launching this programme to empower the next generation of social entrepreneurs and transform the job market for disabled people. We look forward to hearing from social entrepreneurs over the coming months.”

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