'I don’t think employers see what disabled people can do'
For the past three years, Neal Patel has worked part-time in supermarkets. He loves his job, which involves talking to members of the public and dealing with stock. “All the people and staff are nice to me. I like helping customers,” he says.
But although Patel, who has learning difficulties, is in his second supermarket job, he has never been paid for his work. His current role at Waitrose, where he works two shifts a week, has been a voluntary position for the past year.
His disability, he says, doesn’t affect his ability to do the job. “I normally do things by myself ... I don’t think about [my disability] – I don’t really know the difference. Sometimes I need help with big words when I’m reading or writing, or help understanding something, but not often.”
Patel, who graduated from college this summer, knows how hard it is to find paid work if you are disabled – and the statistics confirm this: in January 2016, the UK employment rate among working-age disabled people was 46.5%, compared to 84% for non-disabled people.
For adults with learning difficulties, the numbers are even worse: just 6% of people with a learning disability known to social services are in paid employment, despite more than 60% wanting to and being able to be in work, according to the charity Mencap.
Patel, however – who is supported by the charity Action for Kids – has just had some good news. During the writing of this article, Waitrose decided to offer him a job with a salary.
“My family were pleased and proud when I found out,” he says. “I’ll be working in the household cleaning section. I will go to the stockroom in the morning and then go to the shelves and fill them. It feels better to be paid. I will work hard. I always work hard.”
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