Envisioning London’s future as a city with no disabling barriers, the Youth Forum of disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts wrote a letter addressed to the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Dear Mr Khan,

On behalf of young disabled people living in London, we want to congratulate you on your new role as our Mayor. It is a great chance for us, the Youth Forum of disability-led arts organisation Shape Arts, to bring to your attention some of the issues young disabled people are facing in London.

You state in your manifesto that ‘too many Londoners are treated unfairly because of their gender, ethnicity, faith, sexuality, gender identity or disability’ and so you must know that, despite living in one of the world’s leading economic and cultural capitals, many of London’s young disabled people are locked out of training and employment or lack opportunities to progress and thrive. The current climate shows that things are getting worse for disabled people in London, who are now estimated to number 1.2 million[1]: the incomes of disabled Londoners fell by 29% over the five years from 2007/8 to 2012/13[2], double the equivalent figure for non-disabled Londoners.

The first thing we are asking you is to turn this situation around. This year marks Shape Arts’ 40th anniversary – 40 years spent working towards ending the marginalisation of disabled people and raising the awareness of the social model of disability in the arts and cultural sectors. The model is important to disabled people, because it maintains that it is society’s discrimination and lack of accessibility that disables us, and not our health conditions or impairments. With this in mind and looking to the future, we want to know that we can rely on your dedication to improving our lives and eliminating the physical, organisational and attitudinal barriers we are experiencing in London.

There need to be more accessible employment opportunities available for us and other disabled young people who are out of work and learning. We were heartened to read in your manifesto that you ‘support the development of, and protect schemes which expand opportunities for people with disabilities to work and gain skills’. We hope you agree that young disabled people need to have employment options available to them in the cultural sector and be able to learn skills that make them feel confident to go for these roles. In addition to creating opportunities for us, it’s also essential that we can physically access them. It is essential that there are accessible and safe routes for young, disabled people to travel and get to work in the form of more frequent buses, better transport links and accessible stations everywhere in London, with step-free access to and attendants in every single tube or rail station, including Crossrail.

Under your mayoralty, it is paramount to start the dialogue together with us, employers, teachers, parents, and career advisors and discuss how to make London a city without barriers. Young disabled Londoners are far more likely than non-disabled Londoners to live in low-income households – 1 in 4 disabled children in the UK live in poverty[3] – and so, due to the recent increase in tuition fees, lack of support grants, university cuts and disability funding cuts, university or even college is not an option any more for many of us. What we would like to see are support grants for disabled people to attend university and much higher numbers of work experience opportunities, apprenticeships, internships and paid jobs being offered equally to young disabled people from all backgrounds, including those who have mental health issues or learning difficulties and those who come from low-income families.

Unfortunately, most young disabled people do not get enough support when leaving school and many of us have to enter to adult life unprepared after years in special school units. At the age of 19, young disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled 19-year-olds to not be in any form of education, employment or training (NEET) – 28% compared to 13%[4]. We are not happy about this. We need more support in stepping into employment, from personal assistants and inclusive facilities in schools and colleges to employers who are open and willing to change. Cultural organisations and creative industries have to become aware of the different ways young disabled people communicate, personalise their services, ensure that they are accessible and make all their recruitment processes simple, from job applications to interviews and daily work.

Above all, we want to be treated with respect and understood in the same way as non-disabled young people. Your help will be so valuable in getting all teachers, tutors, managers and officers in the arts and cultural sectors to become more aware of the social model of disability and to strive for real change to make our lives better. We need to change the perspectives that make the things less inclusive and accessible and encourage people to do things better in the years to come.

London has to be a city in which we can live and work independently, fairly and creatively. We want to be able to contribute to the arts and culture in the capital with openness, simplicity and equal access to the opportunities that are available to non-disabled people.

We wish you good health and resilience in your new role, and await your reply to shapeyouth@shapearts.org.uk.

Yours Sincerely,







Shortly after sending their letter, our Youth Forum received a reply on behalf of the Mayor:

Dear Jessica, Kerry, Lilly, Sam and Revell
Thank you very much for your letter to the Mayor congratulating him on his appointment. Please accept this response on his behalf.

The Culture Team at the GLA is fully aware of the great work that SHAPE has been delivering over the years and indeed we have collaborated on a number of programmes for example Big Dance.

We appreciate your commitment to keeping the issue of the need for more accessible employment opportunities in the culture and creative industries for young disabled people high on the Mayor's agenda. 

Please be assured that the Mayor is committed to removing barriers faced by Deaf and Disabled Londoners to enable full participation in all the capital has to offer in particular the cultural offer.

Over the next few months, we will be working with the Mayor’s office to review current policies and plans with the aim that both young and old Disabled Londoners are fully integrated into city life.

We look forward to hearing more from the Shape Arts Youth Forum to move this work forwards.

With kind regards

Jackie McNerney

Culture Strategy Manager


Banner Image: members of Shape's Youth Forum


[1] DWP - Family Resources Survey, 2013/14: gov.uk/government/statistics/family-resources-survey-financial-year-201314

[2] CASE - The Changing Anatomy of Economic Inequality in London (2007-2013): sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/RR06.pdf

[3] The Children’s Society - 4 in every 10: Disabled children living in poverty, 2011: childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/4_in_10_reportfinal.pdf

[4] Department for Education - Youth Cohort Study and Longitudinal Study of Young People in England: gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219058/b01-2011v2.pdf