How is employment policy deconstructed and assimilated by young people with an intellectual disability during the transitional phase of education

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


Only 6% of working age adults with an intellectual disability (ID) are in any form of paid employment (Dempsey & Ford, 2009). The benefits of work and work like activity can be associated with structuring time and providing social contact (Jhonda, 1981). However for people with an ID who are relatively powerless and excluded from mainstream society (Lin et al, 2012; Ewing, 2008; Owens, 2015), work can also bring an opportunity to actively reduce stigma, harassment and discrimination (Maguire, 2009).The Department of Health published the 'Valuing Employment Now' (VEN) paper (2009) proposing to 'radically' increase the number of people with an ID in the open labour market.
Whilst the policy establishes fair treatment and a rights based approach to citizenship (Williams, 2013) this research will investigate entrenched attitudes and practices. Lin et al (2012) suggests current systems are inadequate in preparing younger people with an ID for competitive work roles. My research will build upon this knowledge with specific research questions of:

1) How is policy interpreted at root level by institutions and individuals and how is this constructed and interpreted to young people with an ID?
2) Who is involved in key decisions regarding the future pathways of young people and what language is portrayed when interaction and communication takes place regarding future pathway choice?
3) Is there scope and opportunity to strengthen the policy?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1944982 Studentship ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/03/2021 Kim Dearing
Description My thesis reports on the experiences of the everyday life for people with a learning disability, who are in receipt of social care, trying to access work. I explore this, through methods associated with qualitative enquiry. First, as a participant in the field of a naturally occurring Job Club, specifically established to support learning disabled people access paid work, I deployed ethnographical methods, including document analysis. To compliment this data and broaden out the analysis, I conducted interviews and focus groups focused on notions of self-reported employment. Only 5.2% of working aged adults, who have a learning disability and are in receipt of social care, are in any form of paid employment. Grounded in these low rates, this thesis considers the exclusion inherent within active labour market policy. Specifically, this considers how people are required to navigate a tightrope of 'proving' both ability and disability simultaneously. For, ability is required to demonstrate work engagement and productivity, yet, disability needs to be demonstrated for access to state support, welfare assistance and social care provision.
My thesis has made four major academic contributions. First, by rethinking the interpretation of work, which is often oversimplified and considered only in economic terms, as synonymous with paid employment. Instead, offering a broader framing of work, afforded space to explore the wider complexities of the ethical and moral issues associated with work, as a concept. As such, wider considerations of citizenship and its changing nature and relationship with the state, were attended to.
The second contribution of this thesis is the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking. This thesis has drawn upon disability studies, critical disability studies, medical sociology, social policy, sociology, history, critical race studies, work and employment, and citizenship literature, without alliance, to offer the fullest picture of a complex, nuanced and context dependent social situation. This was a purposeful intention - for work is not solely a commodity experienced through productive effort with tradable economic value, it is also how we experience our social selves and locates us in the social world. Taken together, this instead, offers a broader, diverse intersectional approach, where work in this sense, can engage with conversations and debates around how inequality, marginalisation and exclusion is experienced by different social groups.
The third contribution of this thesis is addressing the theoretical themes and connections gathered from the research sites, to inform and extend two key academic concepts. First, through Goffman's much neglected 'Cooling of the Mark' (1952) framework, I consider through my analysis, how 'cooling out' strategies are deployed, whereby individuals accept a lower position in the employment hierarchy. I also extend Goffman's static interpretation, by demonstrating how these strategies can be fluid and fluctuate, depending on the context. Next, the theoretical offerings from Berlant's (2011) 'Cruel Optimism' extended the inquiry, by skimming back the latent surface level interactions and instead, encompassing a broader, ideologically driven position bound up in critical studies that exposed notions here of 'the good life' as a fallacy, out of reach for many learning disabled people. In connecting these two differing perspectives together, as a continuum, the complex and nuanced processes at play could be explored, to sketch out, Cruelling of the Mark.
The final contribution of this thesis has been to draw attention to the undertheorised notions associated with tokenistic/therapeutic pay and how this is still prevalent within the learning-disabled community, rather than historical, which is the position taken from academic research. Expanding the body of literature into perceived employment fills an academic gap whereby individuals attach the notions of employment that differs from the generally universal constructed understanding of what work is, and, what does and does not constitute work.
Exploitation Route 1. Research around the national minimum wage and employment policy. A key theme of my PhD research has been focused on the national minimum wage legislation and its mechanism as a barrier to employment inclusion, for people with learning disabilities, who are not necessarily able to satisfy the breadth of a job description or work with lower rates of productivity. While an exemption to the national minimum wage is not the solution (as advocated recently by multiple Members of Parliament), a wage subsidy could be a potential route to increase the presence of this demographic into the workforce. Moreover, this option would support grass root initiatives that do not follow the demand side employment position taken by the UK. Research in this area is under theorised and topical. There is opportunity here, with my tacit skill base of the care sector, to research how this could be implemented, without additional cost to the state, through a redistribution of social care funding. Here, highly innovative models of reorganising social care provision within a model of co-working with support workers, rather than individuals traditionally being 'cared for' could offer a dynamic and unique research opportunity. As such, there is scope to reduce the exploitational practices currently endemic within the learning disability community, where people are working unpaid for many years, in the hope of one day securing paid work.
2. On a similar research trajectory, my PhD research lends itself as a springboard to unpack notions associated with a universal basic income. A model of universal income could alleviate the interwoven connection between citizenship and the expectation to engage with waged work to be considered a full and active citizen. With pilot programmes in parts of Scandinavia and Canada currently under evaluation, this research area is fresh and topical within academia, social policy, economics and employment activation. Moreover, the public are becoming more curious given the political position on the topic by Yang in the Democratic party in the US.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description I have already, began this dissemination, through facilitating workshops exploring a key theme from my research, at the Learning Disability Wales conference in 2019. These workshops were attended by both people with a learning disability themselves and stakeholders - predominantly local authority managers, job coaches and employment provider managers. Here, the interactive workshops focused on the value of work, and used a case study approach to explore and unpack, how people may be taken advantage of, and undervalued in the workplace.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services