Help & Support

Recent cuts risk making existing inequalities worse - posing new threats to the life chances of people living with disabilities.

Here you will find information, inspiration and good practice for people with learning disabilities, their families and their supporters.

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Supported employment has been proven to increase meaningful work opportunities for people with learning disabilities. We should not see work as the only marker of being an active citizen. But we also need to challenge the view that people with learning disabilities are incapable of work. There are a number of key organisations that offer support to people with learning disabilities and their families looking for paid or voluntary work.

  • How does supported employment work in practice?
  • If you are a relative or friend of a person with learning disabilities how can you support them in trying to find work?
  • Can anyone with learning disabilities work?

BOSS Employment assist people with learning difficulties into work and help employers create supported work opportunities. They offer the following advice for those looking to get involved with supported employment:

  • Learning about work - Boss believes that with the right support, everyone can work. They support people to start their journey to paid employment by offering good quality information and advice. This advice also includes considering the impact of work on existing benefits that people with learning disabilities might currently receive.
  • Finding a job coach and a job - For lots of people, getting a job means working for someone. A good job coach will help to find the right job by matching you and your skills to the right employer.
  • Working with employers - BOSS works closely with employers from the public and private sectors to ensure that they work in inclusive ways with people with learning disabilities.
  • Supported Internships - offer an excellent way for young people with learning disabilities to explore employment options. They are for people who really want to get a job at the end. They work in partnership between an employer, a college and a supported employment agency. The work is supported by a job coach, backed up with a range of classroom-based activities and with real work experiences in mind. Project SEARCH model has been used to create a partnership between Bristol City Council, City of Bristol College and the Sixteen Co-operative Ltd, a supported employment agency that works with 8-10 people who work at Bristol City Council in a variety of settings (from administration to security, catering support to working in the library). Over 60% of the students have gone on to get a job or an apprenticeship. See here for more information
  • Self-employment and Small business ownership - people with learning disabilities are more than capable of running their own businesses as well as finding opportunities for self-employment. Watch or listen to our video about 'A Clean Sweep', which is a great example of what can be done with the right backing and ambition.

BOSS Employment start with a simple philosophy: that with the right support (and the right attitude of employers) many people with learning disabilities can enjoy work. To find out more about BOSS employment visit here

Get help and support

The following regional and national organisations can provide help with supported employment.

There are a number of self-advocacy groups in the UK that offer real support to people with learning disabilities and their families. We know that self-advocacy groups are incredibly important. We also know that self-advocacy draws on the expertise of people with learning disabilities as they challenge discrimination and offer key support to other people with learning disabilities.

  • But what do self-advocacy groups do in practice and how can you get involved?
  • If you are a relative or friend of someone with learning disabilities how can you support them becoming involved in self-advocacy?
  • Can anyone with learning disabilities be involved in self-advocacy?
  • Why is self-advocacy important in the time of the cuts?

Speakup Self-advocacy in Rotherham is ran by and for people with learning disabilities. They offer a number of services:

  • Peer and self-advocacy - this involves people with learning disabilities helping one another to speak up, to build confidence, friendships and networks. The philosophy is simple: people with learning disabilities are often the best placed to offer support and guidance to other people with learning disabilities. This is a person-centred approach.
  • Friendships and support circles - some people with learning disabilities are isolated and lonely but self-advocacy groups offer opportunities to meet people and socialise. They also promote interdependence.
  • Making information accessible - producing Easy Read documents about the provision of services, key information on education, work and leisure opportunities, as well as capturing the meaning of new laws and legislation that will impact on people with learning disabilities.
  • Promoting healthy lives - Speakup work with individuals with learning disabilities to promote their health and well-being through a number of bespoke one-to- one activities including the writing of Health Action Plans (identifying key health and social care professionals in a person's life); Communication Passports (used in healthcare settings to explain an individual's choice of communication, especially useful when supporting people with complex needs); Crisis plans (to deal with relationship breakdown, money problems, personal challenges); Promoting active circles of support.
  • Offering work experience opportunities - Speakup invite in a number of college students with learning disabilities to experience different work experiences in their offices.
  • Supporting families of people with learning disabilities - families have told us that they feel supported by self-advocacy groups as they notice an increase in confidence in their relatives with learning disabilities because of their involvement with groups.
  • Commissioned training for practitioners - members of Speakup train health and social care practitioners about the philosophy and practice of Person Centred Planning. PCP is at the heart of self-advocacy - emphasising the point that people with learning disabilities and their families should be supported in planning for their futures
  • Anyone with learning disabilities can become involved in self-advocacy - regardless of how well a person can communicate their thoughts and feelings. Self-advocacy is for everyone with learning disabilities and this is especially true at a time when necessary services are being cut.

To learn more about Speakup Self-advocacy Rotherham visit:

Get help and support

The following regional and national organisations can provide help with self advocacy services.

Most people with learning disabilities reside with their families and a large number also live in group homes and hostels run by statutory services and non-government organisations. Families and homes need support in helping people to live meaningful lives in the wider community. And all of us need to view people with learning disabilities as active and valued members of our communities. Too often people with learning disabilities and their families feel isolated and lonely.

  • Are you a parent of a young person with learning disabilities and would like help in planning and supporting them in their life?
  • Are you interested in increasing the community participation of people with learning disabilities?
  • How might we bring in the skills of other people to support people with learning disabilities to live a good life?

Building inclusive communities through Circles of Support

Circles of support is an approach that has been used for a number of years to promote the valued lives of people with learning disabilities. The approach described in our film Enabling Communities was developed by Helen Sanderson Associates

Circles of Support are a way for people to organise themselves to support someone in their life goals. It may be that this person is isolated or vulnerable, or it may be that they are dealing with something that they need help with in that moment. Community Circles, set up by the HSA Foundation, are working with people in all situations to get them the support they need.

How it works:

Sharing skills - John, a person with learning disabilities and his father David, approach a number of people that are important to them. These include family friends, a social worker John likes, the employer of the supermarket where John does some part time work and the owner of the grocers down the road which John visits often to say hello and have a cup of tea. They decide to focus the circle on the following pressing concern: John wants to go out at the weekends for a pint. The circle meets and is facilitated by Helen; an experienced circle facilitator whose time is paid out of John's disability benefits.

Focusing on the aims and ambitions of people with learning disabilities - Circles can be a very powerful way of offering personalised support and ensuring that the person's wishes are met. Currently John feels he is lacking a social life and the circle is working together to meet his wishes. Johns circle meets twice over a couple of months. In the time between circle meetings John enjoys more of a social life at the weekends.

Members of the circle identify a darts team that John can join. As a fan of darts this fits perfectly with John and he gets to have a pint or two during the game. The owner of the local grocers is a regular in the pub and meets John to walk down to the pub before the game.

The second meeting of the circle gives everyone the chance to review how things are going. During this meeting John suggests that he would like to explore moving out of the family home into his own place.

We are not alone. In a time of cuts then we really do need the support of one another. Circles of support might provide a necessary antidote to the current political emphasis on individual self-sufficiency. Circles might be a real example of Big Society. But, this does not mean we can do circles without financial and human support. Indeed, were John to lose his benefits this would mean he could not employ the circle facilitator Helen and his circle could end.

Circles of support might help address the demands of the Mental Capacity Act to ensure that we empower individuals who are judged to lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions about their care and treatment.

Circles is one way of building inclusive communities. The principles under-pinning circles can be transplanted into our wider communities. We need to reclaim the humanity of people with learning disabilities, and we can start by working with them as equal members of society to ensure their full participation

Learn more about Circles of Support

Get help and support

There are a number of resources and organisations that you can help in setting up a circle of support: