Almost 30,000 people have signed our charity’s biggest ever petition calling on the Government to take decisive action to double the number of autistic people in work by 2020.
The petition was delivered yesterday (21.02.17) to Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt MP by Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, Cheryl Gillan MP, and a number of autistic adults.
Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, said: “I am proud to present this important petition to the Government.
“I’ve met so many talented autistic people who, despite their best efforts, feel locked out of work. With more understanding from employers and improved support, we can change this and they can make a huge contribution to our society and economy.
“I strongly urge the Government to remember this as they develop proposals to improve the disability employment rate. We need to give autistic people a chance.”
The Government has pledged to halve the disability employment gap by 2020, which means increasing the disability employment rate from 48% to 64%. But the autism employment gap is even wider, with a recent National Autistic Society survey indicating that only 32% of autistic people are in some form of work - and just 16% in full-time work.
The petition coincides with the end of the public consultation on Government proposals to improve the disability employment rate. Our charity says while work won’t be right for everyone on the spectrum, the majority of autistic people want to work and can be a real asset to businesses. The Government must ensure they are not left behind.
Our response to the consultation says that action is needed on a number of fronts simultaneously. Autistic people need support throughout their lives to help them prepare for employment opportunities. Employers need information and incentives to encourage them to recruit autistic employees and make the reasonable adjustments they need. Jobcentre advisers, benefits assessors, employers and colleagues all need better information to help them understand how autistic people experience the world and how they can provide support, so that people on the autism spectrum can fulfil their potential.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of The National Autistic Society, said: “Over 30,000 people have sent the Government a powerful message, urging them to show leadership and close the autism employment gap once and for all – and to give autistic people the chances they deserve.
“A growing number of employers, like GCHQ and Microsoft, are actively looking to employ autistic people who can have strengths such as tenacity and thinking differently. But many businesses tell us they don’t know where to go for support and they’re worried about getting it wrong.
“The Government’s upcoming White Paper on improving the disability employment rate is an opportunity to open up the workplace for autistic people. They must listen to the voices of autistic people, including the 29,090 people who’ve signed our petition, and introduce autism-specific support to help autistic people to find and stay in work.
"Not all autistic people are able to work. But many are and are desperate to find a job which reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and small adjustments to the workplace, autistic adults can be a real asset to businesses across the UK.”
Arran Linton-Smith, 60, is a senior consultant in the construction industry and was one of the campaigners who delivered the petition to the Government. He said: “I’ve had a very bumpy career, holding a range of different jobs and struggling in a number of them.
"A turning point came four years ago, when I was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 56. It took a while for me to accept the diagnosis but, when I did, all the problems I'd had in the workplace started making sense.
“I took the difficult decision to disclose this at work. To my surprise everyone was so understanding and people started to realise that my different way of seeing things was a huge asset − I was able to spot problems and come up with solutions that weren't even being considered.
"While I'm now in a good position and feel respected, I know that many autistic people aren't so lucky. I feel I've got a duty to hold open the door to the next generation of autistic people, so I was proud to be involved in this campaign and to present this important petition to the Government.
"There's a vast untapped pool of talented individuals out there who can help businesses and other employers become stronger and more competitive."
Find out more about our charity’s campaigning and sign up for more details.