In the run up to the National Assembly for Wales election, our charity campaigned for the introduction of an Autism Act for Wales as part of our Act Now campaign. As a result, five of the six main parties in Wales included a commitment to autism legislation in their manifesto. Following the Assembly election an informal agreement between Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour included an Autism Act. This meant that there was a sense of political momentum behind our call for a new law.
We believe that legislation is needed because the current Welsh autism strategy is not delivering for autistic people on a local level. In some places in Wales, diagnosis of autism can take up to seven years. There are gaps in the provision of services, especially for adults. We want autism legislation for Wales, similar to the legislation in England and Northern Ireland, to protect and promote the rights of autistic people in Wales, their families and carers.
This week the Welsh Conservatives tabled a debate on introducing autism legislation in this new Assembly term. After a lively and emotional hour-long debate, attended by some 40 NAS Cymru members and supporters, the motion to introduce legislation was defeated by 27 votes to 24.
Social Services Minister Rebecca Evans stressed that Welsh Government was committed to making sure that autistic children and adults could get the help they need and outlined that a new strategy on autism for Wales would be published in November. She also argued that we needed to give the new law on adult social care time to be implemented before introducing new legislation on autism. She noted that there would be a new Bill on education and special educational needs shortly, which would cover autistic children.
We will be looking carefully at what the new strategy says alongside the potential impact of the other two laws that the Minister described. However, eight years on from the publication of the first autism strategy for Wales, we know that children and adults on the spectrum are still not getting the help they need. We therefore continue to believe that a new specific law on autism is needed to bring around the change that we all want to see.
Meleri Thomas of National Autistic Society Cymru, said:
“We are disappointed by the vote yesterday and have spoken to many autistic people and their families in Wales who see this as a missed opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the support and services they need.
“We will continue to work with all parties, to highlight what an Autism Act could achieve in Wales and to support our members and supporters in Wales to bring about the clear changes that we all want to see".
Watch the debate here
Read the transcript here
See the voting record here