The third meeting of ESN’s working group on disability took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 19th November 2015. It looked at how social services and the public sector can help people with disabilities to enter and remain in the labour market by offering tailored, coordinated and gradual support, thus contributing to their full inclusion into society and their local communities. Brought forward by the European Commission in 2008, translating the concept of active inclusion into reality remains a challenge today. For this reason, viable solutions and examples were presented from a dozen countries at the meeting.
Transition to the open labour market: policy reform along the UN CRPD
Policies and practices showed a great variety of approaches and involved numerous stakeholders. These policies and practices were united by a common goal, the will to focus on people’s abilities and their integration into the open labour market. This is in line with the model brought by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), as presented by Jonas Ruškus, Professor of Social Work and member of the UN Committee.
As the meeting took place in Lithuania, we learned about reforms and measures in the Baltic countries. In Estonia, the ‘Work Ability Reform’ has aimed to change mentalities, through helping people with reduced working ability to find suitable employment, while ensuring the sustainability of the pension system. Jolanta Šliužienė, from the Lithuanian Department for Disability Affairs, presented the measures taken to encourage the employment of people with disabilities, such as employer’s subsidies, financial support to adjust workplaces, and community-based social rehabilitation services, which aim to facilitate independent living, personal assistance and community-based leisure activities.
Working with employers: a key success factor
Sarah Carr, an independent researcher, presented an assessment of the practices submitted by the Group members prior to the meeting. The practices showed a range of approaches; from a transitional phase (e.g. sheltered workshops) through an inclusion approach (e.g. individual placement and support) to independence (mainstream employment). Gabriel Horzinek and Robert Bacher from the Vienna Social Fund presented the ‘Jobwärts’ programme, which aims to allow the transition from sheltered to the open labour market by acting as a networking point between people with disabilities , service providers and employers.
In the Netherlands, mutual agreements (SLAs) have been made between employers, municipalities, public social services, and public and private service providers through the Locus network, launched by the Dutch Association of Directors of Social Services (Divosa). Adopting a ‘demand-driven approach’ and starting with employers’ needs has resulted in the creation of sustainable jobs for people with disabilities in a number of companies. “Instead of job carving, Locus has worked on what employers want and need, and on what works”, said Brigitte van Lierop (Divosa).
Co-production of employment strategies with service users
Agnieszka Pasek, from Gloucestershire County Council (England) explained how the co-production of an employment strategy with users and the active involvement of user-led organisations have certainly helped them to reach an 18.3% employment rate for people with learning disabilities, against 7% at national level (source: Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (ASCOF)).
Employment is an excellent way to promote independent living in dignity, and gives people choice and control over their lives, while protecting them against poverty and ensuring inclusion in their communities. As we have seen in the practice examples, public social services can act as intermediaries and connect with employers, whilst providing people with disabilities the care and support they need to help them overcome the challenges they face.