Theorising work : investigating the employment of people with learning difficulties

Humber, Lee Anderson (2012). Theorising work : investigating the employment of people with learning difficulties. PhD thesis The Open University.



Paid employment for people with learning difficulties became central to social inclusion agendas over the period of Labour governments between 1997 and 2010. This found its clearest expression in Valuing Employment Now (2009) the first policy document in UK history to specifically focus on the role of employment in the lives of people with learning difficulties. This thesis tests the validity of the claims made in this and other policy documents seeking to embed the idea that employment supports social inclusion. The overarching research question addressed by the thesis is: Is employment a vehicle for social inclusion for people with learning difficulties? Using a qualitative multi-method approach, this question is explored through an analysis of how policy has informed practice over time; the extent to which young people with learning difficulties are prepared for employment; what employment means to people with learning difficulties; and how the identities associated with people with learning difficulties influence inclusion through employment. The thesis analyses relationships between structure and agency in the specific context of learning difficulties and employment. The thesis investigates how employment for people with learning difficulties has been contextualised by policy, service provision and ideologies over time. It interrogates how people with learning difficulties have interpreted this policy- provision-ideas context, and attempted to negotiate it. The thesis analyses the extent to which people with learning difficulties consider employment as an opportunity for them to become involved in a process of social inclusion. In order to support this analysis, the thesis utilises concepts drawn from sociological theory, in particular the concept of structuration (Giddens, 1990). The research found that people with learning difficulties - employed and unemployed - consider employment to have the potential for social inclusion. However, as well as numerous structural barriers research also found that a combination of policy and practice over time has constructed and maintained identity 'types' (Giddens, 1990: 118) which constrain the extent to which employment can facilitate social inclusion. Further, the research found evidence that people with learning difficulties are aware of the identities they are being invited to adopt and draw on them in contradictory ways.

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