Victoria Cleland’s Community Forum summary
In February 2022, I led a virtual Community Forum with staff from the Royal Mencap Society and members with a learning disability from Network Partner organisations from across England and Northern Ireland.
If you are not familiar with Mencap, they are a fantastic charity that aims to improve the lives of those with a learning disability across the UK. They work to ensure that these people have the same rights and equal opportunities to everyone else. Mencap’s input can range from providing advice and support to full-time care, depending on the needs of the individual and their learning disability.
It was my first Community Forum and I was slightly apprehensive about what to expect. I shouldn’t have been: it was a fascinating session with a really engaging group of people (and some very inquisitive pets).
The session focused on two topics, cash and employment.
A strong message was that the preference for using cash, card or electronic payments was a very individual choice and highly dependent on the circumstances of the individual and the support they have available. For some attendees, cash was seen as a useful tool to help them manage their money and provide independence when budgeting. For others, using cash was difficult without support available, particularly for checking change and keeping cash secure.
Many attendees were comfortable using cards and electronic payments and felt this was preferable to cash but did express concerns around contactless limits being increased and for some remembering a PIN numbers was a barrier to using card payments and ATMs. A few attendees had experienced issues with bank branches closing and having to travel further to access cash and support workers commented that increased travel time to access cash ate into the already limited support time that was available. Technological advances could help here. For example, some accounts now provide the ability to set limits and track payments.
Our discussion on employment opportunities was more muted sadly - I fear that some attendees just did not view formal employment as a viable option for them. There were though some positive stories from roles in retail, cleaning and charity work. Those in formal employment jobs felt that they had benefited enormously from support from Mencap and other charities when applying for jobs.
The importance of disability awareness training in organisations was highlighted as key to improving accessibility to jobs. Ensuring that application forms and interviews are accessible are key for employers to ensure they are inclusive. Work trials were also felt to be more suitable and accessible than interviews for individuals with learning disabilities. I’m pleased that the Bank of England continues to be a member of the Disability Confident scheme. This ensures that job applications for roles at the Bank of England who share their disability with us and meet the minimum requirements of the job description are fast-tracked to the first stage of assessment.
I really enjoyed the forum and the ability to engage and share ideas with the group. Their insights were a powerful reminder of the dangers of group think and how we can improve our policies and approaches by listening to the views of a diverse set of people. I am looking forward to my next Forum, and hoping it is not virtual this time (though I might miss out on the rather adorable puppies and elegant cat who appeared on screen).