Employment levels for people with learning disabilities in the UK are 5 to 10 times lower than they were a hundred years ago. And the experiences of workers from the 1910s–50s offer inspiration as well as lessons about safeguarding.
A new study by historian Professor Lucy Delap (Murray Edwards College) argues that loud voices in the 20th-century eugenics movement have hidden a much bigger picture of inclusion in British workplaces that puts today’s low rates to shame.
Professor Delap found that in some parts of Britain, up to 70% of people variously labelled ‘defective’, ‘slow’ and ‘odd’ at the time had paid jobs when demand for labour was high, including during and after the First World War. This proportion fell during recessions, but even then, 30% remained in work. By contrast, in the UK today less than 5% of adults with intellectual disabilities are employed