At KCC’s Cabinet meeting on Monday morning, my colleague Graham Gibbens introduced a paper on the Kent Employability Strategy. I was keen to see the progress made on this, as I started the group a few years ago which now takes this forward. Basically, I was keen to ensure that Kent County Council, and ultimately the rest of the private and voluntary sectors – do anything we can to create employment and training opportunities for those in our society who might not always get the breaks many of us are used to.
I was pleased to see that the Strategy received unanimous support from Cabinet to go forward, and I told two quick stories to my coleagues.
Some years ago I visited a social enterprise in North Kent, where I met a man in his twenties with Downs Syndrome. His job was quite repetitive, but he loved it. He told me that his employers had helped him to learn his job, even showing him how to use the bus to get there, to pay his fare and check his change. And best of all? He now rented a flat, where he had his own front door key. Somewhere he could bring his friends for a beer and an evening on the X-Box.
Somewhere he could feel like the independent person he had become.
But I talked also about a learning disabled man I had met in his forties, who proudly told me he had ‘a job’. He swept the yard of a haulage company – every day, starting at dawn. He was proud of the job he did. I asked what he was paid for this work, and he told me he got a can of beer and a sandwich each day. It appears that had he actually been paid, he would have lost more in benefits than he received for working.
As we set out on the Coalition Government’s journey towards the “Big Society”, let’s not forget that to some people, the smallest things are life changing.