Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Apprenticeship levy could be used to recruit people with a learning disability

Business leaders from across the telecoms, legal, banking and health sectors came together this morning to discuss how to address the barriers to employment facing people with a learning disability, resulting in only 6%* being in paid employment despite most wanting to and being able to work.

Business leaders agreed that using the apprenticeship levy to create opportunities for people with a learning disability would be a “win-win”. 

The breakfast event was co-hosted by the UK’s leading learning disability charity Mencap and charity partner Virgin Money, and marks the end of Learning Disability Work Week 2019 (18th – 22nd November).

Representatives from Vodafone, Lloyds, NHS, Virgin Group. ISS, BUPA and Hogan Lovells, joined Mencap, Virgin Money and Virgin Group to focus on the importance of breaking down barriers that people with a learning disability face and what employees can do to make the workplaces more accessible and diverse. All agreed that focusing on implementing alternative recruitment processes, utilising the apprenticeship levy as a way to create opportunities, and organising knowledge-sharing events where businesses hear from people with a learning disability about their experiences would be beneficial to business.

Oonagh Smyth, Executive Director at Mencap, said: “One of the key things we have heard this morning is that, for many businesses, hiring employees with a learning disability is a very new idea and there is often fear around the unknown. Every business pays an apprenticeship levy and what everyone agreed on today is that this money can be put to good use, to recruit people with a learning disability into their organisations. The most important thing any business can do is break down any fears and seek out the right support and advice in order to build a truly inclusive workplace culture.”

James Peirson, Group General Counsel and Disability Network Sponsor at Virgin Money said: “In order to bring out the best in their people, businesses should be thoughtful about work practices and make reasonable adjustments, whether employees have a disability or not. Companies should not be afraid of employing people with learning disabilities. Our partnership ambition with Mencap is to tackle discrimination and stigma around learning disability and promote social inclusion. Breaking down those barriers that people with a learning disability face and what employees can do to make the workplaces more accessible and diverse is vital in achieving this.”

Natalie Duo, who has a learning disability and presented at today’s event, said: “People with a learning disability can and do make good employees. It’s reassuring to hear business leaders from different sectors all agreeing that it is good sense to find ways to make recruitment into paid roles easier.”

To find out more about Learning Disability Work Week (18th – 22nd November 2019) and Mencap’s employment services, visit:


There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.       

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email .     

What is a learning disability?    

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life;    
  • Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;     
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.